MISSING: Passenger Jet Bound for Algeria

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Air Controllers Lose Contact With Air-Algérie Plane Bound for Algiers

By NY Times, JULY 24, 2014

PARIS — A jetliner with 116 people onboard disappeared overnight Thursday on a flight across the Sahara from Burkina Faso to Algeria.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane, a Boeing MD-83, about 50 minutes after it took off from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, bound for Algiers, according to the official Algerian news agency.

The route of the plane, Air Algérie Flight 5017, would have taken the plane over large desert areas where Islamic militant groups have been active, including northern Mali. But those militants are not known to possess heavy weapons that could strike an aircraft at cruising altitude. Reuters, citing an Algerian official, reported that the aircraft was over Mali when it was last heard from.

Two French fighter jets that were on patrol over northern Mali have been diverted to try to locate the plane, according to Col. Gilles Jarron, a French Army spokesman. “Two Mirage 2000 jets were given the mission to search the area after reports of a suspected accident,” Colonel Jarron said Thursday afternoon. “They are in the air, searching the area between its last known destination along its most probable route.”

The plane belonged to a Spanish company, Swiftair, and was operated by Air Algérie. Swiftair confirmed in a statement from its offices in Madrid that it had lost contact with the plane, and said it was carrying 110 passengers and a crew of six. “In keeping with procedures, Air Algérie has launched its emergency plan,” the state news agency quoted the airline as saying in a statement.

Weather reports for the region indicated that there were thunderstorms and gusty winds overnight in the area of Africa that Flight 5017 would normally have crossed.

The disappearance of the plane comes at a time when the aviation industry is already reeling from the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine last Thursday, the crash of TransAsia Airways Flight 222 in Taiwan on Wednesday and the suspension of flights to and from Tel Aviv, Israel, this week because of rocket fire from Gaza. The Federal Aviation Administration lifted its ban on American flights to Israel overnight.

An Air Algérie representative, Kara Terki, told reporters at a news conference in Burkina Faso that all the passengers on Flight 5017 were on their way to destinations beyond Algeria, in Europe, the Middle East or Canada, Reuters reported. Mr. Terki said the passenger list included 50 French citizens, 24 people from Burkina Faso, 8 Lebanese, 4 Algerians, 2 people from Luxembourg and one each from Belgium, Switzerland, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ukraine and Romania, the news agency reported, adding that Lebanese officials gave a higher figure, 10, for their citizens on the plane. The Spanish pilots’ union said all six crew members were Spanish, Reuters reported.

According to Ascend, an aviation consultancy in London, Swiftair owns five MD-83 jets, and two of them were leased to Air Algérie in June. One of those planes was built by McDonnell Douglas in 1996, and the other in 1989. The manufacturer merged with Boeing in 1997, and the combined company discontinued production of MD-80 series jets two years later.

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