LATEST UPDATE 19:12 UTC 24 JULY 2014 | A Swiftair MD-83 aircraft flying for Air Algérie with flight number AH5017 has crashed in the Mali desert on Thursday 24 July during a flight from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers in Algeria. Thursday evening the first reports came in that French Air Force jets had localized the wreckage somewhat near Aguelhoc, north of Gao, in the Kidal area where French and a UN forces are deployed to counter radical Islamic rebels.
On Thursday afternoon Algerian Air Traffic control already said the McDonnell Douglas-made airliner (currently Boeing owned) had crashed, while two French Air Force (Armée de l’Air) Mirage 2000 fighter jets – scrambled from N’Djamena airport in Chad – went looking for the disappeared airliner.
According to Swiftair, the MD-83 had 112 passengers and 7 crew on board. According to the initial list the passengers come from France (50), Burkina Faso (24), Lebanon (20), Algeria (4), Luxemburg (2), Belgium (1), Switzerland (1), Nigeria (1), Cameroon (1), Ukraine (1) and Romania (1). The entire crew is Spanish. The aircraft took off from Burkina Faso at 01:17 UTC and was expected to arrive in Algiers at 05:10 UTC. When it failed to show up, the alarm was raised. Swiftair, French, UN, Boeing and Malinese authorities are now going to trying to find out what happened to the MD-83. Bad weather was reported at the time of the disappearance. Just after AH5017 left, other flights were rerouted around the thunderstorms in the area.
French forces deployed
Apart from up to six French Air Force Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft and a French Air Force C135 tanker in Chad, the French also have 5 Aérospatiale (Airbus Helicopters) Puma medium-transport helicopters, 2 Cougar tactical transport helicopters, 3 Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters) Tigre attack helicopters, 3 Gazelle armed scout helicopters and a Pilatus aircraft in theatre that in theory could be deployed to a possible crash site. All French air assets in Central Africa support Operations Serval and Sangaris in Chad, Mali and the Central African Republic, where 1600 French ground troops are deployed for those operations as well.
The UN Forces have several aircraft as well, including four Royal Netherlands Air Force AH-64D Apache attack helicopters in Gao that could use their sensors, special cameras and electronic systems to look for the plane as well. Late Thursday afternoon two of the Dutch Apaches were deployed in the AH5017 search.
The white painted UN air assets includes at least one Antonov AN-74TK-100 (registered in Russia as RA-74016) transport aircraft that is able to land on relatively short and unpaved runways.
The incident with the Swiftair/Air Algérie flight follows two deadly airline crashes this week, the first being of course Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine with 298 fatalities on 17 July, and a TransAsia ATR turboprop in Taiwan on 23 July, with 48 people dead.
© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editors Elmer van Hest and Marcel Burger