NEW: French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius puts number of French victims at 54
"We are ruling nothing out," French President Francois Hollande says
Wreckage found in Mali, not far from border with Burkina Faso
The plane disappeared from radar after changing its flight path because of bad weather
The wreckage of an Air Algerie flight that crashed early Thursday has been found in the northern Mali desert, officials in Burkina Faso, where the plane took off, said on state-owned RTB television.
Wreckage of the jet was found in a “disintegrated state” in Mali, he said, making it the third major international aviation disaster in recent days.
“Regrettably, there were no survivors. I share the pain of the families, who are going through terrible hardship,” he said.
Hollande said the families of the French nationals aboard the plane – the largest group from any one nation – would be welcomed to the Foreign Ministry on Saturday to be given all the latest information.
Airline authorities said Flight 5017 was carrying 116 people when it took off early Thursday from Burkina Faso to Algeria.
Less than an hour into the flight, the aircraft, an MD-83, disappeared from radar after changing its flight path because of bad weather, officials said.
The one “black box” recorder found so far is being taken to Gao, Mali, and will be examined as soon as possible, Hollande said.
“What we already know is that the plane’s debris is concentrated in a limited area,” he said.
“But it is still too early to draw any conclusions, they will come in time. There are hypotheses, including weather conditions, but we are not putting any of them aside because we want to find out everything that happened.”
The plane’s wreckage was found in Mali’s Gossi region, not very far from the border with Burkina Faso, according to the French President.
Radar contact with the plane was lost 50 minutes after takeoff from the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou, authorities said. The jet was supposed to arrive later that day at Houari Boumediene Airport in Algiers. Mali is between the two nations.
Though the cause of the crash is unknown, the flight path took the aircraft through a turbulent area hit by regular thunderstorms at this time of year, according to CNN meteorologist Mari Ramos.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the cause of the accident was still unknown but that “significant storms were active in the area and the crew explicitly had the attention to reroute due to weather before losing contact with aircraft,” according to CNN’s French affiliate BFMTV.
Differing accounts continue to emerge of the number and nationalities of people on the plane.
Air Algerie said the plane was carrying 110 passengers and six crew members, but Hollande gave a different number.
“My thoughts go to the 118 victims, those close to them and their families,” he said.
Hollande said 51 French nations were on board but at a news conference later Friday, broadcast by BFMTV. Fabius put the number at 54.
Fabius said the aim was to bring the victims’ remains as quickly as possible to Gao, so that they can be identified and returned to their home countries.
Mamadou Zoungrana told CNN Canadian affiliate CBC that his wife and two sons were on the flight. She had wanted to leave on an earlier flight.
“I didn’t want to change the flight,” he said. “I said it will be OK. Maybe if I canceled.”
The plane’s departure country of Burkina Faso had 24 people aboard, the airline said, while Lebanon had eight.
The passengers also included six Algerians; five Canadians; four Germans; two from Luxembourg; and one each from Mali, Cameroon, Belgium, Ukraine, Romania, Nigeria and Egypt, Air Algerie said.
The plane’s six crew members were Spanish, Houaoui said. The plane belongs to a private Spanish company, Swiftair, but it appears to have been operated by Air Algerie.
Burkina Faso’s Prime Minister Luc Adolphe Tiao said 28 of those aboard were from Burkina Faso, four more than the number stated by the airline.
The presidents of the European Commission and European Parliament, Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, expressed their “deepest condolences” to the families of the victims in a joint statement Friday.
“We also wish to express our sympathy and solidarity to the governments of all affected nations, including to the French and Algerian Presidents,” they said.
Burkina Faso: No link to our role in Mali
The wreckage was located by a helicopter sent by Burkina Faso, Tiao said, according to his government’s website.
He also said there was “no link” between the crash and the mediating role played by Algeria and his own country in the ongoing conflict in northern Mali between government forces, backed up by French troops, and Islamist militants.
He said the three countries must work hand in hand to clarify the situation and support the families of the victims.
Flight 5017’s disappearance comes exactly a week after a Malaysia Airlines plane was brought down in Ukraine with 298 people on board.
Air Algerie, Algeria’s national airline, flies to 28 countries.
Until this week, the deadliest incident in the airline’s history occurred in March 2003 when a domestic flight crashed after takeoff, killing 102 people on board. One person survived.
The MD-83 is part of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 family of twin-engine, single-aisle jets.
CNN’s Al Goodman and Radina Gigova contributed to this report.