Air Algerie plane crashes over Sahara, 51 French nationals on board

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An Air Algerie plane flying over the Sahara has crashed, according to Algerian aviation authorities.

More than 100 people were on board, nearly half of them French.

It’s not known where the plane was or what caused it to come down. There are reports of a storm in the area at the time.

Flight AH 5017 was en route overnight from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers. The plane is thought to have been flying over Mali when communication was lost about an hour into the flight, according to Algerian authorities.

But there conflicting reports over the exact chain of events. Burkina Faso authorities said the plane was taken in hand by colleagues in Niger, and that the last contact with the flight was just after 03.30 GMT. However officials in Niamey denied having had contact with the plane.

The Spanish airline Swiftair, which owns the plane, said 110 passengers and six Spanish crew members were on board.

It has since been reported that there were 51 French nationals on the passenger list, with more than 20 Lebanese, six or seven Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, plus a Swiss national, a Belgian, an Egyptian, a Malian, a Nigerian and an Ukrainian.

Reports say the pilot asked to change route because of a storm; there is said to have been a strong sandstorm over northern Mali at the time.

Two French fighter jets based in West Africa have been deployed to try and locate a missing Air Algerie flight, a French army spokesman said on Thursday.

“Two Mirage 2000 jets based in Africa were dispatched to try to locate the Air Algerie plane that disappeared on Thursday,” French army spokesman Gilles Jaron said. “They will search an area from its last known destination along its probable route.”

Crisis centres have been set up in France, at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, and at Marseille.

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