24/07/2014 11:58 BST | Updated 25/07/2014 09:59 BST

Air Algerie: Wreckage Of Missing Plane 'Found In Mali'

UPDATE: First Images Of The Air Algerie Crash

Wreckage from an Air Algerie plane carrying 116 crew and passengers has reportedly been found in Mali. According to officials from Burkina, the wreckage was found on the border Mali-Burkina Faso border.

Speaking to the Associated Press, General Gilbert Diendere said parts of the plane were found about 31 miles from the border.

Flight AH5017 was flying from Burkina Faso to Algiers across the Sahara when Algerian aviation authorities lost contact with the aircraft around 20 minutes after take-off on Thursday.

One of the passengers was named as Cuban leader Fidel Castro's niece Mariela, however that report proved to be erroneous, with Mariela telling the television network TeleSURs “I’m at a meeting, happy and healthy... I’m alive and kicking."

The plane crashed in West Africa after it was reportedly forced to divert due to a storm.


A MD83 Plane

NBC News cites airport officials as confirming the news that the wreckage has been located.

The passenger manifest says 50 passengers - almost half of those onboard - were French, four were from Burkina Faso, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two from Luxembourg and one from Mali.

There was also one Nigerian, one from Cameroon, one Belgian, one Ukrainian, one Romanian and one Swiss passenger, Air Algerie said. The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots' union.

mariela castro

Mariela Castro, the niece of Cuban leader Fidel, had been falsely named as one of the passengers

The plane was chartered from Spanish airline Swiftair who said in a statement that the aircraft was an MD83. Flight AH5017 flew the Ouagadougou-Algiers route four times a week, AFP news agency reported.

The plane had been missing for hours before the news was made public, and officials did not make it immediately clear why there had been such a delay in reporting the loss of the aircraft.

"The plane was not far from the Algerian frontier when the crew was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent the risk of collision with another aircraft on the Algiers-Bamako route," an Air Algerie source told AFP. "Contact was lost after the change of course."

Mali is at the end of its dry season, during which the "harmattan", a dry, hot wind that blows from the east out of the Sahara, "sweeps the soil into dusty whirlwinds and is accompanied by daytime temperatures of about 40 to 45 °C", according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

The weather map below shows the strength of the storm at the time that the plane disappeared. The green patches show that the clouds would have been up to 49,500ft - a plane's cruising altitude is around 35,000ft.

Two French fighter jets based in West Africa have been deployed to try and locate the missing plane, a French army spokesman has said.

"Two Mirage 2000 jets based in Africa were dispatched to try to locate the Air Algerie plane that disappeared on Thursday," French army spokesman Gilles Jaron said.

"They will search an area from its last known destination along its probable route."

The plane was chartered from Spanish airline Swiftair who said in a statement that the aircraft was an MD83 and first announced that they were unable to establish contact with the plane. Ougadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali where unrest continues in the north. Flight AH5017 flew the Ouagadougou-Algiers route four times a week, AFP reported.

The country is currently considered a "high risk" flight zone by US airlines, according to the Wall Street Journal graphic.

The downing of the Air Algerie plane comes a week to the day after the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash in which 298 people died.