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Associated Press
Map shows path of Flight 5017.

France sends soldiers to guard Air Algeria wreck

Associated Press
An arrival information screen shows the delayed Air Algerie flight 5017 (top) at the Houari Boumediene airport near Algiers, Algeria, Thursday, July 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Sidali Djarboub)
Associated Press
This photo taken on Friday, May 16, 2014 shows an MD-83 aircraft in the livery of Swiftair landing at Zaventem Airport Brussels. (AP Photo/Kevin Cleynhens)

– French officials have dispatched a military unit to secure the site in Mali where an Air Algeria plane crashed in a heavy rainstorm with 116 people aboard.

A message posted Friday on the website of President Francois Hollande said the wreckage had been clearly identified despite the disintegration of the aircraft.

The MD-83 aircraft, owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Algeria’s flagship carrier, disappeared from radar less than an hour after it took off early Thursday from Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou for Algiers.

Earlier, officials in Burkina Faso said human remains and the burnt wreckage had been found about 30 miles from the border of Burkina Faso near the Malian village of Boulikessi.

“We sent men, with the agreement of the Mali government, to the site, and they found the wreckage of the plane with the help of the inhabitants of the area,” said Gen. Gilbert Diendere, a close aide to Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore and head of the crisis committee set up to investigate the flight.

The pilots had sent a final message to ask Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rain, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said Thursday.

The crash was the third airline disaster within a week.

Last week, a Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down while over war-torn eastern Ukraine, and the U.S. has blamed it on separatists firing a surface-to-air missile. On Wednesday, a Taiwanese plane crashed during a storm, killing 48 people.

French forces, who have been in Mali since January 2013 to rout al-Qaida-linked extremists who had controlled the north, had joined the search for the Air Algeria flight, alongside the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA. Algerian aircraft also participated in the hunt.

Swiftair, a private Spanish airline, said the plane was carrying 110 passengers and six crew, and left Burkina Faso for Algiers at 0117 GMT Thursday.

The passengers included 51 French, 27 Burkina Faso nationals, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two Luxembourg nationals, one Swiss, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian, Ouedraogo said. The six crew members were Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots’ union.

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