Algiers: An aircraft belonging to Algeria’s national airline, Air Algerie, with 119 people on board, disappeared early Thursday, 50 minutes after takeoff from Ouagadougou Airport in Burkina Faso, sparking a frantic search operation by French and Algerian air force jets.
The plane was reported missing over the Malian region of Gao, some 500 km south of the Algerian border, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal told reporters on the sidelines of a parliament session.
According to an Air Algerie statement, there are 112 passengers and seven crew members on the missing plane, Xinhua reported.
An airline representative said at a press conference in Ouagadougou that there are about 50 French citizens among the passengers.
Air Algerie also confirmed that the missing aircraft was chartered from the Spanish Swiftair company.
“The last radar contact with the plane occurred at 1.55 a.m. GMT while flying over the area of Gao in Mali,” Air Algerie said, adding that the aircraft took off from Ouagadougou at 1:17 a.m. GMT and was scheduled to arrive in Algiers at 5:11 a.m. GMT.
Meanwhile, French Air Force units in Mali and Algerian Air Force have launched a joint operation to search for the passenger plane, a security source told Xinhua.
The source, who spoke to Xinhua on the condition of anonymity, said air search operations were focused on the desert areas near the border between Mali and Niger, adding that the Algerian authorities have requested support from the governments of Mali and Niger.
The source said that the search operation was launched jointly by the French Air Force units on stand-by in Mali and the Algerian Air Force, as part of a pre-established joint plan to search for missing planes in the region.
Algeria’s neighbour Mali is still grappling with sporadic rebel attacks in its northern area after a military coup led to an armed rebellion that was crushed in 2013 by French and African troops.
“In accordance with these developments, the company launches the emergency response plan,” Air Algerie said.
TSA, a local news website, said two emergency units have been set up by the airline, one in Algiers and the other one in Ouagadougou.
This incident comes after a Malaysia Airlines jetliner crashed was downed over eastern Ukraine last week killing all 298 people on board, and a TransAsia Airways plane crash landed in Taiwan Wednesday killing 48.
Algeria has witnessed more than 10 plane crashes since its independence in 1962. The deadliest crash occurred in March 2003, when an Air Algerie plane crashed moments after taking off from Tamenrasset airport killing 97 passengers.