An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people has vanished while en route from Burkina Faso to Algeria. A French government official and the plane's Spanish owner says contact was lost with the aircraft over northern Mali.
Air navigation authorities said flight AH5017 disappeared from the radar at 0155 UTC on Thursday around 50 minutes after taking off from Burkina Faso's capital Ougadougou, according to Algerian state news agency APS.
France's junior transport minister, Frederic Cuvillier, said the plane had vanished over the border region between Niger and Mali.
Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said 50 French nationals were among those on board, along with 24 Burkina Faso nationals, Six Lebanese, five Canadians, four Algerians, two Luxembourg nationals, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and on Malian.
The plane sent its last message around 0130 UTC asking Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rains in the area, Ouedraogo said.
French jets dispatched
Two French Mirage 2000 fighter jets were deployed from a base in West Africa to try and locate the missing plane, a French army spokesman said.
The Air Algerie flight was being operated by Swiftair. The Spanish pilot union Sepla said the plane had a Spanish crew.
Swiftair said the plane never arrived at its scheduled time and it had not been possible to establish contact with the plane to ascertain what happened.
Crisis cells established
Air Algerie said in a statement carried by APS that "in keeping with procedures" it had "launched its emergency plan."
France's civil aviation body said crisis cells had been set up at the airports in Paris and Marseille.
In February of this year, an Algerian C-130 military aircraft crashed into the mountains in the northeast, killing more than 70.
Algeria's worst air disaster to date occurred in 2003, when an Air Algerie passenger plane crashed shortly after takeoff near the southern city of Tamanrasset after one of its engines cut out. All but one of the 103 people on board were killed.
dr/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)