French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters Monday that the pilots of the Air Algerie that crashed in Mali last Thursday had asked air traffic controllers for permission to turn back toward their point of departure after they changed course due to a storm in the area (story first posted on July 25 and updated July 28 at 4:11 pm EDT) . Early Friday morning French troops located the wreckage of Air Algérie AH5017 close to Gao in Mali. All 116 people on board the MD-83 died in the crash. In a statement issued on Friday at 9:00 a.m. Paris time, French President Francois Hollande said that soldiers had secured the crash site and had taken possession of one of the aircraft’s flight data recorders. On Monday, French officials confirmed that investigators had found both the data and voice recorders and that they had arrived at France’s BEA air accidents investigation bureau for analysis.
French citizens accounted for almost half of those on board and the BEA has taken charge of probing the causes of the accident. Hollande confirmed reports of bad weather conditions in the vicinity of the crash site at the time of the accident, but insisted that investigators haven’t ruled out all possible causes.
Leased from Spanish charter operator Swiftair, the MD-83 had taken off from Ougadougou in Burkina Faso at 1:17 a.m. GMT on July 24 and was due to land in Algiers at 5:10 a.m. GMT. Burkino Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedrago told Reuters that the pilots asked to change their route at 1:38 a.m. GMT because of a storm in the area. In a statement made to Algerian state new agency APS, Air Algerie said that air traffic controllers lost contact with the airplane at 1:55 am GMT.
Weather reports indicated thunderstorms and high winds in Flight 5017’s plotted flight path, which included an area of insurgent activity in northern Mali. French troops have been in Mali for some time as part of a UN-led mission to counter the insurgent threat.