Another airliner goes down, this time in Mali

Horrible news from CNN:

An Air Algerie flight with at least 116 people on board which dropped off the radar in the early hours of Thursday appears to have crashed in a remote area of Mali.

Air Algerie said via Twitter that the plane has apparently crashed in the Tilemsi area, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the southeastern city of Gao.

Flight 5017 lost radar contact 50 minutes after takeoff from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, early Thursday. It was supposed to arrive at Algiers’ Houari Boumediene Airport about four hours later.

Ouagadougou Airport said in a statement on its website that French forces stationed in the area had detected the wreck of the plane between Gao and the town of Kidal, in a desert zone that is very difficult to access.

CNN ominously notes that, “Islamist militants have been fighting the Malian government and French forces in the region for months.”  There is not, as of yet, any indication that foul play brought down the plane.  Some rough weather was reported in the area, but thunderstorms don’t generally bring down modern jet liners.

The UK Daily Mail adds that Mali airspace was recently designated a “high risk” area by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration due to the ongoing civil war.  However, French officials said it was unlikely the rebel fighters possess weapons capable of hitting a plane at cruising altitude.

The international breakdown of this flight was made available much more quickly than it was for the Malaysian flight shot down over Ukraine, dispelling a rumor about a VIP passenger that was bandied around on the Internet Thursday afternoon.  From the CNN report:

A U.S. State Department official said the department was not aware at this time of any Americans on the flight.

The Ouagadougou Airport statement claimed that Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro, was among those on board. However, the National Center for Sexual Education in Havana, Cuba, which Mariela Castro runs, denied the reports and told CNN she was at an event in Havana.

Castro subsequently told a Telesur anchor who interviewed her by phone, “I’m alive, kicking, happy and healthy!”

Reuters says that French Mirage warplanes have been dispatched to search one of the possible crash areas, while planes from Niger work their border with Mali, and other teams are “scouring the rugged region around Aguelhoc toward the Algerian borders.”