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North Africa on Edge

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Algerian Airliner goes Missing over Conflictive Sahara Desert

July 24th 2014

Air Algerie, Algeria's national airline, says it lost contact with one of its planes flying from Burkina Faso to Algiers across the Sahara at approximately 50 minutes after take-off from Ouagadougou. The plane was last seen at 01:55 GMT. There were 50 French citizens among the 110 passengers and six crew on board Flight AH 5017. There were also 10 Lebanese nationals on board. Reportedly, the pilot contacted Niger's control tower in Niamey to change course because of a storm. The plane was flying a route frequently used by French travellers. A spokesperson for Air Algerie said that a provisional passenger lists included 24 people from Burkina Faso, four Algerians, two from Luxembourg, one Belgian, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian, one Ukrainian and one Romanian.

Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal reportedly said on an Algerian radio broadcast, "The plane disappeared at Gao (in Mali), 500km (300 miles) from the Algerian border." UN troops in Mali say the plane came down between Gao and Tessalit. Brigadier General Koko Essien, who is leading the UN troops, told the BBC that the area leading up to the Algerian border was vast and sparsely populated. Weather, he said, had been bad overnight.

However, armed groups are also said to be active in the area. However, at the moment the most probable scenario looks like a plane that came down in bad weather, the BBC says.

The missing plane was an Airbus A320 operated by Swiftair of Spain. According to AFP, it was not far from the Algerian frontier when the crew was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent the risk of collision with another aircraft on the Algiers-Bamako route. According to an Air Algerie source, contact was lost after the change of course.

Flight AH 5017 flies the Ouagadougou-Algiers route four times a week. In February 2014, a Hercules C-130 military plane in Algeria crashed into a mountain in Oum al-Boughi province enroute to Constantine. Flying in bad weather the plane came down and killed 77 people on board. Only one person on board survived.

Cutting Edge Contributor Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.com


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