PARIS (AFP) - Many French nationals are thought to be on board an Air Algerie jet which went missing after taking off from Burkina Faso for Algiers, Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said Thursday.
"What we know is that it was an Air Algerie flight that was likely carrying many French people," he said.
France has sent two Mirage 2000 jets to look for the plane that went missing less than an hour after takeoff from Ouagadougou. At least 22 of the passengers were due to fly into France from Algiers, according to airport sources and border police. Fifteen were due to fly to Paris and seven to Marseille.
Algerian radio said 51 French citizens and 26 from Burkina Faso were among the 116 passengers on the plane which dropped off the radar as it overflew northern Mali. Apart from seven Algerians, nationals from Canada, Ukraine and Luxembourg were also on board, it said. An official source in Lebanon said at least 20 of its nationals were also on the flight, including three couples with 10 children.
A source in Mali said that contact with the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 was lost over Gao in north Mali, a region that was seized by jihadists groups for several months in 2012 and that remains very unstable despite the Islamists being driven out in a French-led offensive.
France's civil aviation body said crisis cells had been set up at the airports of Paris and Marseille.