WATCH ABOVE: An Algerian flight disappeared from radar over Mali, shortly after taking off from Burkina Faso. There were 116 people on board, including five Canadians. Eric Sorensen reports.
A woman from Sherbrooke, Que., was one of the five Canadians on board Air Algerie Flight AH5017 presumed to have crashed in northern Mali, Global News has confirmed.
Jean-Pierre Prevost’s daughter, 35-year-old Isabelle Prevost, was travelling with another Quebec family – two adults, two children – from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, to Algiers on their way to a relative’s 50th wedding anniversary, Prevost told Global News.
The Air Algerie jetliner was carrying 116 people, including five Canadians, when the flight lost contact with air traffic controllers early Thursday morning
Plane wreckage found in Mali
A Burkina Faso official says the wreckage of the Air Algerie plane that went missing has been found in Mali.
The wreckage of the Air Algeria plane that went missing Thursday has been found about 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the border of Burkina Faso near the village of Boulikessi in Mali, a presidential aide said.
“We sent men with the agreement of the Mali government to the site and they found the wreckage of the plane with the help of the inhabitants of the area,” said Gen. Gilbert Diendere, a close aide to president Blaise Compaore and head of the crisis committee set up to investigate the flight.
“They found human remains and the wreckage of the plane totally burnt and scattered,” he said.
He told The Associated Press that they went to the area after hearing from a resident who described seeing a plane go down.
French officials said a military unit has been sent to secure the site in Mali. A message posted Friday on the website of President Francois Hollande said the wreckage had been clearly identified despite the disintegration of the aircraft.
The MD-83 aircraft, owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Algeria’s flagship carrier, disappeared from radar less than an hour after it took off early Thursday from Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou for Algiers.
It vanished Thursday in a rainstorm over restive northern Mali, and French officials had said it has probably crashed – the third major international aviation disaster in a week.
French fighter jets, U.N. peacekeepers and others had been hunting for signs of wreckage of the MD-83 plane in the remote region. Scattered separatist violence may hamper any eventual investigation into what happened.
Families from France to Canada and beyond waited anxiously for signs of Flight 5017 and their loved ones aboard. Nearly half of the passengers were French, many en route home from Africa.
VIDEO: French foreign minister says Algerian plane probably crashed
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement saying he was saddened at news of the crash.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the passengers and crew who lost their lives in this tragedy,” he said in the statement, adding that it was confirmed Canadians are among the victims.
Tweets from the account of Lynne Yelich, Canada’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said consular officials are ready to provide assistance.
2/3 We are aware of reports that Canadians were on board. Canadian consular officials stand ready to provide assistance.
— Lynne Yelich (@Lynne_Yelich) July 24, 2014
READ MORE: Is 2014 the year of airline accidents?
The plane, owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Air Algerie, disappeared from radar screens less than an hour after takeoff, en route from Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou to Algiers.
Before vanishing, the pilots sent a final message to ask Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rain, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said.
Burkina Faso’s government spokesman said on national TV the country will observe 48 hours of mourning.
The disappearance of the Air Algerie plane comes after a series of aviation disasters.
Fliers around the globe have been on edge ever since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March on its way to Beijing. Searchers have yet to find a single piece of wreckage from the jet with 239 people on board.
Last week, a Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down while flying over a war-torn section of Ukraine, and the U.S. has blamed it on separatists firing a surface-to-air missile.
Earlier this week, U.S., European and Canadian airlines started cancelling flights to Tel Aviv after a rocket landed near the city’s airport. Finally, on Wednesday, a Taiwanese plane crashed during a storm, killing 48 people.
It’s easy to see why fliers are jittery, but air travel is relatively safe.
There have been two deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights in the last decade, excluding acts of terrorism. Travellers 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.
A senior French official said it seems unlikely that fighters in Mali had the kind of weaponry that could shoot down a jetliner at cruising altitude. While al-Qaida’s North Africa branch is believed to have an SA-7 surface-to-air missile, also known as MANPADS, most airliners would normally fly out of range of these shoulder-fired weapons. They can hit targets flying up to roughly 12,000-15,000 feet.
Swiftair, a private Spanish airline, said the plane was carrying 110 passengers and six crew, and left Burkina Faso for Algiers at 0117 GMT Thursday (9:17 p.m. EDT Wednesday), but had not arrived at the scheduled time of 0510 GMT (1:10 a.m. EDT Thursday). It said the crew included two pilots and four flight attendants.
According to the Spanish pilots’ union, the passengers include:
The report that five Canadians were on the Air Algerie flight comes a week after a Canadian was among the nearly 300 who perished when a Malaysian passenger plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine in an area controlled by pro-Russian rebels. Andrei Anghel was a 24-year-old medical student from Ajax, east of Toronto.
Swiftair said the Air Algerie plane was built in 1996 and has two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 PW engines.
Swiftair took ownership of the plane on Oct. 24, 2012, after it spent nearly 10 months unused in storage, according to Flightglobal’s Ascend Online Fleets, which sells and tracks information about aircraft. It has more than 37,800 hours of flight time and has made more than 32,100 takeoffs and landings.
If confirmed as a crash, this would be the fifth one – and the second with fatalities – for Swiftair since its founding in 1986, according to the Flight Safety Foundation.
The MD-83 is part of a series of jets built since the early 1980s by McDonnell Douglas, a U.S. company now owned by Boeing Co. The MD-80s are single-aisle planes that were a workhorse of the airline industry for short- and medium-range flights for nearly two decades. As jet fuel prices spiked in recent years, airlines have rapidly being replacing the jets with newer, fuel-efficient models such as Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s.
There are 496 other MD-80s being flown, according to Ascend.
Boeing spokesman Wilson Chow said the company was aware of the reports on the plane and was “gathering more information.”
Brahima Ouedraogo reported from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. AP journalists Ciaran Giles in Madrid, Spain, Elaine Ganley, Thomas Adamson and Sylvie Corbet in Paris, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
–With files from The Canadian Press
© 2014 The Canadian Press