PARIS: Flags flew at half-mast in France Monday in mourning for the 118 victims of the Air Algerie plane tragedy, as investigators waited for the black boxes from the crash to arrive.
Thousands of kilometres away on the remote desert site of the accident in Mali, experts were sifting through the remains of the aircraft to try and determine why it plunged to the ground with such force that it completely disintegrated. “They will try to glean the maximum information,” Remi Jouty, head of France’s Bureau of Investigations and Analyses agency (BEA), said in Paris.
Their work will take a “few days”, he said, adding that the bureau will examine the plane’s flight recorders and other information, including the prevailing weather conditions at the time. Mali’s Communications Minister Mahamadou Camara told AFP the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder had been taken to the capital Bamako from the site and were thought to have left for France on Sunday.
Video footage of Mali’s remote, barren Gossi area where the plane came down showed a scene of devastation littered with twisted and burnt fragments of the plane. “We saw the impact of the crash, with debris everywhere. For now, we cannot speak to you of bodies,” said Mali’s Transport Minister Hachim Koumare after a visit to the site. No one survived the impact of Thursday’s tragedy and entire families were wiped out. France bore the brunt of the tragedy, with 54 of its nationals killed in the crash of the McDonnell Douglas 83, which had taken off from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and was bound for Algiers.
Travellers from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg also died in the crash that has tentatively been blamed on bad weather that forced the pilots to change course. Mali on Sunday said it had launched a judicial inquiry into the cause of the disaster, adding to similar efforts from Paris and Ouagadougou. Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore announced the inquiry after meeting with the families of the victims of diverse nationalities.
Paris meanwhile has taken the lead in the probe, and President Francois Hollande said the bodies of all passengers on the plane — and not just French nationals — would be repatriated to France. On Monday morning, he held another crisis meeting with ministers at the presidency, where the national flag flew at half-mast to mourn the victims — like on every other government building in the country.
Prayers were held Sunday for the victims in many churches in Burkina Faso. At Ouagadougou airport, people left a teddy bear, flowers and lit candles next to the photos of some of the dead. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has said weather conditions seem the most likely cause of the accident, the worst air tragedy to hit France 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 the crash site to identify the victims and determine the cause of the disaster.
One flight recorder was retrieved almost as soon as rescuers arrived on the spot, while the second was found late Saturday. France has also dispatched military forces already stationed in Mali since its offensive last year to free the country’s north from the grip of Islamists and Tuareg rebels. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week that around 180 French and Malian forces were on the crash site to secure the area, as were 40 Dutch soldiers from the MINUSMA UN stabilisation force in Mali.
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