The United Nations said it recovered the second black box from the Air Algerie MD-83 that crashed in Mali last week as troops from France, Mali and Burkina Faso continued recovery efforts.
More than 200 soldiers have been deployed to a thinly populated semi-arid area near the Burkina Faso border where Flight AH5017 crashed at about 2 a.m. on July 24. The plane, carrying 110 passengers and six crew members, was formally identified on July 25 by the French military, which has secured the site and found one of the black boxes. The UN Mission in Mali found the second device, it said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
“The plane has disintegrated and we have only seen fragments and pieces of bodies,” Burkina Faso Prime Minister Luc-Adolphe Tiao told reporters in Ouagadougou, the capital, on July 25. Identifying bodies may be difficult, he said.
The loss of the plane capped a week of aviation disasters that included the downing of a Malaysian Air Boeing Co. (BA) 777 over eastern Ukraine on July 17 following a suspected missile strike, killing all 298 people on board. On July 23, an ATR-72 turbo-prop crashed on the Penghu Islands in Taiwan, leaving 48 people dead.
Recovering the wreckage in Mali may prove difficult as some of the debris is covered by rainwater after storms across the country, Burkina Faso authorities said.
While it’s “probable” weather may have been a factor, “it is too early to draw any conclusions,” French President Francois Hollande said yesterday in Paris after meeting some relatives of the 54 French citizens who were on the plane.
The bodies of all the victims will be brought to France for identification and delivery to families, Hollande said. Flags in France will fly at half-staff for three days starting Monday.
A Burkina Faso official, General Gilbert Diendere, said efforts by experts from France to reach the crash site and work on identifying bodies may be hindered by continuing rainfall.
According to Seyibo Zamtou, a representative of air navigation security agency Asecna, the plane was flying at 800 kilometers (500 miles) an hour before slowing and losing altitude in an abnormal fall. The flight took off from Ouagadougou and was headed to Algiers, Algeria.
The Air Algerie incident takes the potential 2014 death toll in airline disasters to 680 persons, higher than the 12-month totals for the past three years, according to air-safety consultants Ascend Worldwide.
The site of the crash is about 80 kilometers from the Mali town of Gossi, and accessing the area by road can take as long as six hours because of the rugged terrain and adverse weather conditions, according to French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Burkina Faso Communications Minister Alain Edouard Traore said 28 of his country’s citizens were on board, and declared the nation in mourning. Other passengers included eight people from Lebanon, six Algerians, five Canadians and four Germans. Two citizens of Luxembourg were also on board, according to the country’s Foreign Ministry.
The aircraft asked the control tower in Niamey, Niger, to divert because of a storm about 40 minutes after taking off, said Youssouf Ouedraogo, the Burkina Faso foreign minister, without saying where he got the information. Amidou Zerbo, a forecaster at the Ouagadougou airport, said the area was stormy when the plane crashed and “dangerous from an aeronautic point of view” because of the rainy season.
Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali share a border in the southern Sahel, a semi-arid zone below the Sahara desert that is sparsely populated and with few roads. The Sahel stretches more than 5,400 kilometers across Africa from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east.
MD-83 planes belong to a family of twin-engine, short-to medium-range, single-aisle commercial airliners that were introduced in 1980. They were built by McDonnell Douglas Corp., acquired by Boeing Co. in 1997. The Swiftair MD-83 was built in 1996 and equipped with two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 PW engines.
Other incidents involving the model include the loss of an Alaska Airlines flight over the Pacific Ocean in 2000, caused by inadequate maintenance, which killed all 88 people on board. In 2012, a Dana Airlines flight from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, crashed into the heavily populated Agege suburb of Lagos, killing 153 people on board and 10 on the ground.