The daughter of Cuba’s President Raúl Castro was not aboard the Air Algerie aircraft that crashed on Thursday in Mali.
Reports began circulating Thursday morning that Mariela Castro was a passenger on Air Algerie Flight AH5017. The airline included Castro’s name on a list of the plane's passengers that was posted to its website and Facebook account. But those claims soon came under question when sources in Havana confirmed seeing Castro in the city on Thursday morning.
NBC’s Tom Costello tweeted that senior producer Mary Murray had “personally seen” Mariela on Thursday.
NBC's Mary Murray in Havana reports she has personally seen Raul Castro's daughter Mariela this morning. She is NOT on #AirAlgerie
â€” Tom Costello (@tomcostellonbc) July 24, 2014
Castro later confirmed during an interview with Venezuela's Telesur TV that she was safe and not involved in the plane crash.
"I'm alive, happy and healthy. ... Maybe the media that published that news needed a bit of publicity, but here I am," Castro said.
Mariela Castro is the most prominent gay and lesbian rights activist in Cuba. She is the director of the National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba (CENESEX) and has been at the forefront of the fight for equality for Cuba’s LGBT community, which was once persecuted by her uncle Fidel's government. She is an elected member of Cuba’s parliament and travels across the world speaking on LGBT issues.
An Algerian official confirmed Thursday that Flight AH5017 had crashed during a flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers. The aircraft was carrying 110 passengers and six crew members. Air Algerie tweeted that the plane appears to have crashed in northeast Mali, around 45 miles from the city of Gao.
Authorities lost contact with the flight around 50 minutes after takeoff, Algeria’s state news agency APS said. The plane was first reported missing Thursday morning.
An Air Algerie source told Agence France-Presse the airline lost contact with the flight after it took a detour due to poor visibility. "The plane was not far from the Algerian frontier when the crew was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent the risk of collision with another aircraft on the Algiers-Bamako [Mali] route," the source said.
It is believed that a sandstorm in the region may have contributed to the course change request. According to a Malian diplomat speaking with Reuters, the sandstorm hit the country overnight and was in the plane’s flight path. But Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said the path change was requested due to heavy rains in the normally arid region.