Update as of 6:30 a.m. EDT: Reports from a press conference by French President Francois Hollande said Friday that there are no survivors in the crash of Air Algerie Flight AH5017, and added that both of the plane's black boxes have been found.
"We think the plane went down due to weather conditions, but no hypothesis can be excluded as long as we don't have the results of an investigation," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve reportedly told RTL radio.
France announced on Friday that it would send military troops into Mali to secure the crash site of the ill-fated Air Algerie Flight AH5017.
Tuareg separatist militia control large parts of northern Mali. In 2012, they rebelled against the government, starting an Islamist movement that helped them seize control of the region. In 2013, France led an international operation that broke the Tuareg Islamists' control over the region.
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"A French military unit has been sent to secure the site and gather the first elements of information," French President Francois Hollande's office said in a statement reported by Reuters.
Flight AH5017 was flying from Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, in northwest Africa, to the Algerian capital of Algiers, when it crashed into the desert in northern Mali on Thursday, killing all 116 passengers and crew onboard. Air Algerie was operating the MD-83 aircraft that was owned by Spanish company Swiftair.
According to the passenger list released by Burkina Faso authorities, there were 51 French nationals, 27 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two from Luxembourg, one Cameroonian, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Swiss, one Nigerian and one Malian aboard the plane. The Lebanese Foreign Minister said the number of Lebanese citizens onboard were at least 20, some with dual nationality, the report said.
Spain's pilots union SEPLA, said the six crew were from Spain.
Soon after the aircraft was reported missing, French and U.N. aircraft engaged in a search mission to locate the aircraft’s wreckage in remote northern Mali. The flight wreckage was discovered in an area that lies between the town of Gossi and the Burkina Faso-Mali border, Malian state television reported. Near the village of Boulikessi, 31 miles from the border, a team of investigators inspected the wreckage.
“The team has confirmed that it has seen the remains of the plane, totally burned out and scattered on the ground," General Gilbert Diendere, a member of the crisis unit in Burkina Faso, told local television, adding that they had found dead bodies. "Sadly, the team saw no one on site. It saw no survivors" he said, according to Reuters.
Local officials in Gossi said the crash was witnessed by a group of herders.
"The herders were in the bush and saw the plane fall. It must have been a storm and it was struck by lightning. They said it was on fire as it fell, before it crashed," Louis Berthaud, a community counselor in Gossi, told Reuters.
Aviation officials lost contact with flight AH5017 on Thursday within an hour from takeoff, after the pilot requested a change in course due to bad weather, the report said.
Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore declared two days of national mourning, starting on Friday.