French President Francois Hollande has said that nobody survived the Air Algerie plane crash in Mali. He said rescue staff had recovered one of the plane's 'black box' flight recorders.
"Alas, there is not a single survivor, I share the families' grief," Hollande said at the start of an emergency meeting at the Elysee Palace.
The MD-83 plane, bound for Algiers from Ouagadougou, crashed near Mali's border with Burkina Faso and was thought to be carrying 116 people. According to an Air Algerie representative in Burkina Faso, 51 French citizens and four Germans were on the passenger manifest.
The MD-83 crashed shortly after a sandstorm weather warning was issued, and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio on Friday that this was "the most probable hypothesis" for the incident.
"We think that this plane crashed for reasons connected to the meteorological conditions," Cazeneuve said, before adding that "no hypothesis can be ruled out so long as the inquiry has not issued all of its findings."
Cazeneuve said on Friday that preliminary investigations suggested the plane broke apart on hitting the ground, saying that a mid-air break-up "does not correspond to the most probable hypothesis."
Another cabinet member, state secretary for transport Frederic Cuvillier, also said that the comparatively small debris field and strong smell of aviation fuel at the crash site suggested the plane had crashed owing to bad weather, technical problems, or a combination of the two.
Hollande concurred with these ealier statements in Paris on Friday, but again appealed for patience.
"The debris from the plane is concentrated over a limited area but it is still too early to draw a conclusion," Hollande said. "There are theories, and notably weather-based ones, but we are not ruling anything out."
IATA pledges investigation
French authorities have been cautious with regard to the cause of the crash, perhaps partly in response to last week's air disaster in eastern Ukraine. There are growing indications that Malaysia Airlines' MH17 Boeing 777 was shot down.
After these two incidents, and Wednesday's crash in Taiwan during torrential rain that killed 48 people, the International Air Transport Association on Friday said it would "leave nothing unturned" in a new bid to boost global aviation safety.
"With three tragedies in such quick succession, many people will, understandably, be asking questions about aviation security," Tony Tyler, the head of the global airline federation, said in a statement. "The greatest respect that we can pay to the memory of those involved is to leave nothing unturned in our quest to understand the cause and to take steps to ensure that it is not repeated."
Tyler also stressed that flying remained "among the safest activities that one can do" statistically, despite a difficult week for the industry.
Concerns about flights to Tel Aviv
Air safety has also come into focus this week during the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The American and European flight safety agencies earlier this week advised against flights into Tel Aviv, but both organizations have since lifted the warning. German carriers Lufthansa and Air Berlin, however, cancelled their Tel Aviv-bound services on Friday despite receiving the all-clear.
The German pilots' trade union Cockpit had criticized the decision to reinstate flights into Tel Aviv.
"There are many crew members who have major concerns about this," spokesman Jörg Handwerg said late on Thursday. "Commercial flights have no business in warzones or crisis regions." Handwerg said he suspected that politics was the real driving force behind both the imposition and the lifting of the Tel Aviv advisory warnings.
"If something like this were happening in, say, Egypt, those responsible would surely have acted differently."
msh/pfd (AFP, Reuters)