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Air Algerie flight carrying 116 vanishes

ALGIERS, Algeria/PARIS -- An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital disappeared from radar early Thursday over northern Mali after heavy rains were reported, according to the plane's owner and government officials in France and Burkina Faso.

The jet has probably crashed but there has been no trace of the plane yet, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

Fabius said there were 51 French nationals aboard the flight from the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou to Algiers.

“Despite intensive searches, no trace of the plane has been found as we speak,” he said.

“The plane has probably crashed. The searches are focussing at this stage on a vast strip of Malian territory around the region of Gao,” in the north of the west African nation, he said.

Air navigation services lost track of the MD-83 about 50 minutes after takeoff from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, at 0155 GMT (9:55 p.m. EDT Wednesday), the official Algerian news agency APS said.

The list of passengers includes 51 French, 27 Burkina Faso nationals, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Belgium, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said. The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots' union.

The plane sent its last message around 0130 GMT (9:30 p.m. EDT), asking Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rains in the area, Ouedraogo said.

French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said the plane vanished over northern Mali. He spoke Thursday from a crisis center set up in the French Foreign Ministry. Cuvillier didn't specify exactly where the plane disappeared over Mali, or whether it was in an area controlled by rebels.

But Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said on Algerian state television said that 10 minutes before disappearing, it was in contact with air traffic controllers in Gao, a city essentially under the control of the Malian government, though it has seen lingering separatist violence.

The plane had been missing for hours before the news was made public. It wasn't immediately clear why airline or government officials didn't make it public earlier.

Air Algerie Flight 5017 was being operated by Spanish airline Swiftair, the company said in a statement. The Spanish pilots' union said the plane belonged to Swiftair.

The flight path of the plane from Ouagadougou to Algiers wasn't immediately clear. Ouagadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali where unrest continues in the north.

Northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention last year scattered the extremists, but the Tuaregs have pushed back against the authority of the Bamako-based government.

A senior French official said it seems unlikely that fighters in Mali had the kind of weaponry that could shoot down a plane.

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