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Conflicting reports on location of missing Air Algerie jetliner

An Air Algerie jet carrying 110 passengers and six crew members that disappeared early Wednesday has reportedly been found.

MADRID, SPAIN - JULY 24: Journalists try to interview a Red Cross psychologist at the Spanish company Swiftair's headquarters on July 24, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. A Swiftair-owned MD-83 plane operated by Air Algerie carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The plane departed Burkina Faso for Algiers at 9:17 p.m. ET Wednesday but had not arrived at the scheduled time of 1:10 a.m. ET Thursday.

According to a Fox News report, a French Ministry of Defense official reported the Air Algerie jet that vanished from radar shortly after takeoff crashed in Mali and that two French fighter jets have located the wreckage.

Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said the plane sent its last message around 9:30 p.m. ET, asking Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rains in the area. A source told Sky News that the plane asked to divert its path “to avoid another aircraft.”

Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said on Algerian state television that 10 minutes before disappearing, the pilots were in contact with air traffic controllers in Gao.

A French Ministry of Defense official told Fox News that the plane went down near the Malian city of Gao, a city essentially under the control of the Malian government, though it had seen lingering separatist violence.

ABC News reports the Air Algerie jet had been missing for hours before the news was made public. It wasn’t clear why the airline or government officials didn’t release the information sooner.

Flight AH5017, which flies the four-hour passenger route four times a week, took off in Ouagadougou and was bound for Algiers. The Swiftair MD-83 disappeared in the early morning over Mali. Naharnet News reports an official source in Lebanon told Agence France-Presse that at least 20 Lebanese nationals were on the flight, including three couples with 10 children.

The Lebanese embassy in Algiers said they were not yet informed of any confirmed news regarding the incident other than contact had been lost with the plane.

“There were Lebanese onboard, but there is no confirmed information until the moment,” the embassy added.

LBCI television reported air navigation services lost contact within 50 minutes after takeoff. Algerian radio said the plane dropped off the radar as it overflew northern Mali.

Reuters reported Thursday afternoon that French warplanes and U.N. helicopters had scoured north of Mali on Thursday for the wreckage of the Air Algerie flight. Nearly half of the passengers on board were French.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said authorities believe the plan encountered bad weather after the pilot requested to change direction shortly after takeoff due to a storm. He said, however, no hypothesis had been excluded.

Officials in Mali and Burkina Faso gave conflicting accounts of locating the crash.

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said wreckage of the flight was spotted in his country’s far north, toward the Algerian border between the towns of Aguelhoc and Kibal.

General Gilbert Diendere, a member of the crisis unit in Burkina Faso, said his team had found remains in southern Mali 50 km (30 miles) from the Burkinabe border. Local authorities in the nearby town of Gossi also told Reuters the wreckage had been located there.

Fabius said from Paris that the flight had probably crashed but that two French Mirage warplanes searching the vast desert area around the northern Milian city of Gao had spotted no wreckage. “Despite intensive search efforts, no trace of the aircraft has yet been found,” Fabius told journalists.

Recent air disasters stress air travelers

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March on its way to Beijing.

Last week a Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down while flying over a war-torn section of Ukraine. The U.S. has blamed it on separatists firing a surface-to-air missile.

Earlier this week, U.S. and European airlines began canceling flights to Tel Aviv after a rocket landed near the city’s airport.

On Wednesday, a Taiwanese plane crashed during a storm, killing 48 people.

While it is easy to understand why travelers are jittery, air travel remains relatively safe. ABC News reports there have been two deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights in the last decade, excluding acts of terrorism. The report states drivers are much more likely to die driving to the airport than stepping on a plane.

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