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Thu 24 Jul 2014 02:56 PM

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Air Algerie flight crashes with 116 on board

Airbus A320 en route from Burkina Faso to Algiers disappeared from radar over Gao, Mali

Air Algerie flight crashes with 116 on board
Image is for illustrative purposes only.

Latest Update from Reuters (17:07): An Air Algerie flight
crashed on Thursday en route from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers with
110 passengers on board, an Algerian aviation official said.

There were few clear indications of what might of happened
to the aircraft, or whether there were casualties, but Burkino Faso Transport
Minister Jean Bertin Ouedrago said it asked to change route at 0138 GMT because
of a storm in the area.

"I can confirm that it has crashed," the
Algerian official told Reuters, declining to be identified or give any details
about what had happened to the aircraft on its way north.

Almost half of the passengers were French citizens,
an airline official said.

Two French fighter jets based in the region have
been dispatched to try to locate the airliner along its probable route, a
French army spokesman said. Niger security sources said planes were flying over
the border region with Mali to search for the flight.

Algeria's state news agency APS said authorities
lost contact with flight AH 5017 an hour after it took off from Burkina Faso,
but other officials gave differing accounts of the times of contact, adding to
confusion about the plane's fate.

Swiftair, the private Spanish company that owns the
plane, confirmed it had lost contact with the MD-83 operated by Air Algerie,
which it said was carrying 110 passengers and six crew.

A diplomat in the Malian capital Bamako said that
the north of the country - which lies on the plane's likely flight path - was
struck by a powerful sandstorm overnight.

Whatever the cause, another plane crash is likely
to add to nerves in the industry after a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed
over Ukraine last week, a TransAsia Airways crashed off Taiwan during a
thunderstorm on Wednesday and airlines cancelled flights into Tel Aviv due to
the conflict in Gaza.

An Air Algerie representative in Burkina Faso, Kara
Terki, told a news conference that all the passengers on the plane were in transit,
either for Europe, the Middle East or Canada.

He said the passenger list included 50 French, 24
Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, four Algerians, two from Luxembourg, one Belgian,
one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian, one Ukrainian and one Romanian.
Lebanese officials said there were at least 10 Lebanese citizens on the flight.

A spokeswoman for SEPLA, Spain's pilots union, said
the six crew were from Spain. She could not give any further details.

Swiftair said on its website the aircraft took off
from Burkina Faso at 0117 GMT and was supposed to land in Algiers at 0510 GMT
but never reached its destination.

An Algerian aviation official said the last contact
Algerian authorities had with the missing Air Algerie aircraft was at 0155 GMT
when it was flying over Gao, Mali.

Aviation authorities in Burkina say they handed the
flight to the control tower in Niamey, Niger, at 1:38 a.m. (0138 GMT). They
said the last contact with the flight was just after 4:30 a.m. (0330 GMT).

Burkina Faso minister Ouedrago said the flight
asked the control tower in Niamey to change route at 0138 GMT because of a
storm in the Sahara.

However, a source in the control tower in Niamey,
who declined to be identified, said it had not been contacted by the plane,
which in theory should have flown over Mali.

Burkinabe authorities have set up a crisis unit in
Ouagadougou airport to provide information to families.

Issa Saly Maiga, head of Mali's National Civil
Aviation Agency, said that a search was under way for the missing flight.

"We do not know if the plane is Malian
territory," he told Reuters. "Aviation authorities are mobilised in
all the countries concerned - Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Algeria and even
Spain."

Aviation websites said the missing aircraft, one of
four MD-83s owned by Swiftair, was 18-years-old. The aircraft's two engines are
made by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies.

US planemaker McDonnell Douglas, now part of
Boeing , stopped producing the MD-80 airliner family in 1999 but it remains in
widespread use. According to British consultancy Flightglobal Ascend, there are
482 MD-80 aircraft in operation, many of them in the United States.

"Boeing is aware of the report (on the missing
aircraft). We are awaiting additional information," a spokesman for the
planemaker said.

Swiftair has a relatively clean safety record, with
five accidents since 1977, two of which caused a total of eight deaths,
according to the Washington-based Flight Safety Foundation.

Air Algerie's last major accident was in 2003 when
one of its planes crashed shortly after take-off from the southern city of
Tamanrasset, killing 102 people. In February this year, 77 people died when an
Algerian military transport plane crashed into a mountain in eastern Algeria.

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