Air Algerie Flight Reported Missing -- 2nd Update

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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By Christopher Bjork, Robert Wall and Stacy Meichtry

Air Algérie lost contact with Flight 5017 after takeoff from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, as the jetliner headed to Algiers with 116 people on board, Algeria's state news agency and the plane's operator said Thursday.

French Secretary of Transport Frédéric Cuvillier told reporters the plane disappeared over Northern Mali, where Islamist militants are fighting the Malian government and French forces. Numerous French nationals were probably aboard the missing plane, Mr. Cuvillier said.

Contact with the Boeing Co. MD-83, carrying 110 passengers and six crew members, was lost at about 1:55 a.m. local time, 50 minutes after the jet had taken off, the Algerian government's official news agency said in a statement. "Air Algerie launched (an) emergency plan," the agency added. It gave no other details.

An official at the directorate of Ouagadougou Airport said there had been an incident, "but for the moment we don't know anything more." He refused to give his name because he wasn't authorized to speak to reporters.

The missing plane has triggered a second global scramble among aviation regulators and safety officials in as many weeks, following the downing last week of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over war-torn eastern Ukraine. It also follows a temporary flight ban imposed by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on American carriers using Tel Aviv airport, after a Hamas-fired rocket landed nearby earlier this week. The ban was lifted late Wednesday.

On Wednesday, forty-eight people died and 10 were injured after a TransAsia Airways plane went down in the outlying Penghu islands, off the coast of Taiwan.

The flight path of the missing Algerian jet isn't yet clear, but Mr. Cuvillier said the plan disappeared over Northern Mali. The FAA has warned airlines to be extra vigilant when flying over Mali.

There is no indication the jet was shot down and no confirmation of a crash.

Still, amid questions by airline executives and regulators over whether MH17 should have been flying over eastern Ukraine, the Air Algérie jet's flight path will be closely scrutinized.

The FAA has banned U.S. carriers of flying over Mali at lower altitudes. The FAA cited "insurgent activity," including the threat of antiaircraft missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and rockets. Apart from worries about insurgent threats in Mali, the Algerian government has been keeping a close watch on airspace on its eastern border, where violence in Libya has led to flight bans there.

Spanish charter company Swiftair was operating the jet for the Algerian flag carrier. "We have no contact with the airplane," the Madrid-based company in a statement. The plane was due to land in Algiers at 6:10 a.m. local time, Swiftair said.

Swiftair operated two MD-83s planes for Air Algérie, one built in 1989 and the other in 1996, according to AeroTransport Data Bank, a French company that tracks airplanes. Privately-held Swiftair was established in 1986 and has a fleet of more than 30 planes. Most of the jets are older models such as Boeing 727s and 737s, as well as MD-83s.

All six crew aboard the missing Air Algérie airplane are Spanish nationals, according to Spain's main pilots' union.

France's foreign ministry said its embassies in Algeria and Burkina Faso were working with the airline and local authorities to locate the plane. France has a large military presence in the region with scores of troops operating in Mali, a landlocked country wedged between Alergia and Burkina Faso.

"We are totally mobilized," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Accident rates in Africa are typically higher than in the rest of the world as the continent struggles with poor infrastructure that has made flying there more difficult. The International Air Transport Association said there were 61 accidents in the region between 2009 and 2013. The accident rate during the period was 13.47 crashes per million flight hours in Africa compared with the global average of 2.51 crashes.

IATA and the International Civil Aviation Organization have embarked on a program to lift African airline safety performance to global standards by next year.

Benoît Faucon, Inti Landauro and Dan Michaels contributed to this article.

Write to Christopher Bjork at christopher.bjork@wsj.com, Robert Wall at robert.wall@wsj.com and Stacy Meichtry at stacy.meichtry@wsj.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires


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