To start this story, we need to go to Burkina Faso – a relatively small African nation with a population of 16,934,839.
At 01.05 GMT, a plane took off from Aeroport International de Ouagadougou. It was a McDonnell Douglas MD-83, which was owned by Swiftair, but operated by Air Algérie. The plane (with a capacity for 167 people) was carrying 110 passengers (along with it’s six crew) on a route to an airport in Algiers – the capital of nearby Algeria. It’s flight number was 5017.
There have been multiple sets of figures for the nationalities, but the Algeria Press Service offer the following:
All six of the Spaniards were the crew (2 pilots and 4 flight attendants). One source claimed there was a Nigerian. Another said there was 51 who were French. However, the quantities listed above are generally accepted. I should mention that at this point, it’s worrying that there isn’t one definitive manifest used by everyone. You’d think that it’d be easy enough to release it in a situation like this.
At 01.38 GMT, the plane asked to be re-routed. As you can see from the image above, there was severe weather problems in the area. This request was confirmed.
The following video shows you the final route:
What happens next is where the mystery begins. Everything was fine until 01.55 GMT, when the plane disappeared from radar and no-one could get in contact with it. Many had suspected that the storms were the cause. Perhaps it was just a case of interference. However, time went on and the level of worry increased.
The last contact with the plane was just outside the Burkina Faso border. According to the route, this put it in Mali territory. The French – who have plenty of influence in this region, as well as the most passengers on the plane – deployed two Mirage warplanes as part of the search operation. More specifically, they are Mirage 2000 single seater fighter jets, that can be heavily armed. They are multi purpose and used all over the world (over 600 in places such as Peru and India). At this point, there was a fear that AH5017 had crashed.
The Mali quandary
As you can see, Mali is a geographically large country, but it actually has a lower population (15,301,650) than Burkina Faso. A large section of the land is uninhabited, due to the huge desert in the north. A large part of Mali (which includes this region) is controlled by a group of rebels called the Tuareg. Although there has been recent successes with diplomacy, they have been the source of violence and terrorism in the past. It was thought that an alternative reason for the crash could be that it was shot down. At this point, wreckage wasn’t found, so their could be no concrete evidence of this. Some have suggested that the Tuareg do not have the capabilities for that sort of thing either.
The search for the plane had taken some time at this stage. Although the desert in the region is huge, you’d think that (after a while) to advanced warplanes would be able to notice a huge pile of plane wreckage that sticks out like a sore thumb.
The wreckage is found….eventually.
Earlier in the day, the French Foreign Minister had denied that the plane had been found. This was after a statement on the Aeroport International de Ouagadougou website, which stated that it had.
At 17.59 GMT, the President of Mali (Ibrahim Boubacar Keita) had announced that the wreckage had been found between the village of Aguelhoc and the neighbouring city of Kidal, but provided no other details (helpful). Locals had reported to Radio France International that they heard loud explosions, which could have been the crash.
At 23.45 (British time) it was announced that the wreckage had been found 30 miles from the border of Burkina Faso, in the Mali village of Boulikessi. Human remains and scattered body parts have been found by a search party. I should point out though that multiple maps and Google search results put Boulikessi far inside Burkina Faso, which is confusing. A Presidential aide (General Gilbert Diendere) gave the information to the Associated Press though.
This is yet another incredibly sad story of families losing loved ones after a plane crash. I can only imagine what they are going through right now. My thoughts are with them – obviously.
Now that the wreckage has been found, hopefully the victims can be identified quickly. The families should be allowed to bury or cremate their dead. It is only right.
It is unlikely that the Tuareg caused this crash. The most likely option is the weather. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to find out what the black box recorder reveals. As I explained in my posts about Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, the flight recorders can be very important.
What concerns me is the amount of confusion over the facts. I get that there’s always a certain amount of it in these situations, but there are some simple things that could have been cleared up quickly. For example, which country a particular village is in. Another example would be what nationalities were on the plane. Some people reported the crash far too early as well, which is never great for the families.
So, what do you think?