French troops are headed to a remote area in Mali today to secure the site of Thursday's Air Algerie jet crash, the third major international aviation disaster in a week, after wreckage was found.
French President Francois Hollande said there were no survivors in the crash of the MD-83 aircraft, which disappeared from radar less than an hour after takeoff early Thursday from Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, for Algiers. The plane had requested permission to change course because of bad weather.
The jetliner –- owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Algeria's flagship carrier -– had 110 passengers and six crew members on board.
Speaking after a crisis meeting, Hollande also announced that one of the aircraft's two black boxes has been found in the wreckage, in the Gossi region near the border with Burkina Faso. It is being taken to the northern Mali city of Gao.
A French Reaper drone based in Niger spotted the wreckage, French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier told France-Info radio today. Two helicopter teams also overflew, noting that the wreckage was in a concentrated area.
A column of soldiers in about 30 vehicles were dispatched to the site, he said.
A statement early today from Hollande's office said the aircraft had been clearly identified "despite its state of disintegration."
France's interior minister said today that terrorism cannot be excluded as a cause for the tragedy, though it was likely because of bad weather.
French forces, stationed in Mali to help combat al Qaeda and tribal separatists, are tasked with securing the crash site and gathering information. Much of the region is desert, rugged and remote, with few roads and an average high temperature of 101 degrees this time of the year.
More than 50 French passengers were aboard the plane, the airline said. Other passengers hailed from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Canada, Algeria, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Nigeria, Cameroon and Malia. The six crew members were Spanish.
News of the plane's disappearance came when Swiftair, the Spanish company that operated the plane, released a statement saying the plane had not arrived at its destination.
Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said the plane sent its last message around 9:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, asking Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rains in the area.
John Hansman, MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics, said sand storms can be especially problematic for flight crews.
“Sand storms are really bad because the sand is ingested in the engines, and it can create a problem,” Hansman said.
The flight path of Flight 5017 from Ouagadougou, the capital of the West African nation of Burkina Faso, to Algiers was not immediately clear.
Ouagadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali. Northern Mali has been the scene of firefights between the alliance of al Qaeda affiliated fighters and Tuareg separatists against French troops supporting the Mali government.
The crash of the Air Algerie plane is the latest in a series of aviation disasters.
In March, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the southern Indian Ocean with 239 people on board. No wreckage from the plane has been found. Last week, a Malaysia Airlines jetliner was shot down over a war-torn section of Ukraine, with U.S. officials blaming it on separatists firing a surface-to-air missile. On Wednesday, a Taiwanese plane crashed during a storm, killing 48 people.
While fliers are jittery about the tragedies, air travel remains relatively safe. There have been two deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights in the last decade, excluding acts of terrorism.
Travelers are much more likely to die driving to the airport than stepping on a plane.
There are more than 30,000 motor-vehicle deaths in the U.S. each year, a mortality rate eight times greater than that in planes.
Jetliners such as the one that crashed in Taiwan and Mali are designed to survive storms, but pilots are supposed to fly around bad weather, MIT’s professor Hansman said.
“Weather in and of itself shouldn't have been a problem in either of these accidents,” he said, “but it’s likely to be a combination of the weather and the pilots not being able to react to the weather.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.