BAMAKO: French investigators Sunday scoured through the debris of a shattered Air Algerie jetliner in Mali’s remote desert north to get to the cause of the third global air disaster in eight days.
Experts from France’s Bureau of Investigations and Analyses agency (BEA) that probes air accidents arrived at the site late Saturday and began their delicate task. “They will try to glean the maximum information,” BEA chief Remi Jouty said in Paris. Their work will take a “few days”, he said, adding that they will examine the plane’s data flight recorders and any other information including the prevailing weather conditions at the time.
“It is too early to make any conjecture” about the reason for the crash, he said. French President Francois Hollande, who met families of some of the victims in Paris on Saturday, said the bodies of all 118 victims would be repatriated to France and a memorial would be erected at the site. Officials who had already reached Mali’s remote, barren Gossi area described a scene of devastation littered with twisted and burnt fragments of the plane.
No one survived the impact of Thursday’s tragedy and entire families were wiped out. France bore the brunt with 54 of its nationals being killed in the crash of the McDonnell Douglas 83, which had taken off from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso bound for Algiers. Travellers from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg also died in the crash, increasingly being blamed on bad weather that forced the pilots to change course.
Hollande said flags would fly at half-mast from government buildings for three days from Monday to mourn the victims. In Burkina Faso, President Blaise Compaore met the families of the victims of diverse nationalities and opened an investigation into the tragedy. Lebanese national Pierre Hage sought Compaore’s help so that he could recover the “remains of my relatives either wholly or in part.”
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said weather conditions appeared to be the most likely cause of the accident, the worst air tragedy for French nationals since the crash of the Air France A330 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009. The Air Algerie crash was the third worldwide in the space of just eight days, capping a disastrous week for the aviation industry. On July 17, a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down in restive eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. And a Taiwanese aircraft crashed in torrential rain in Taiwan on Wednesday, killing 48.
Apart from the BEA experts, France has also dispatched 20 police officers to try to identify the victims and determine the cause of the disaster. One of the flight recorders of the plane was retrieved almost as soon as rescuers arrived on the spot, while the second black box was found late Saturday, according to Radhia Acouri, the spokeswoman for the MINUSMA UN stabilisation force in Mali.
France has also dispatched military forces already stationed in Mali since its offensive last year to free th country’s north from the grip of Islamists and Tuareg rebels. This year has already seen Algeria mourn the loss of more than 70 people in the crash of a C-130 military aircraft in February.
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