PARIS (REUTERS, AFP) - Investigators have concluded the Air Algerie flight with 116 people on board broke apart when it hit the ground, French officials said on Friday, suggesting this meant it was unlikely to have been the victim of an attack.
"The aircraft was destroyed at the moment it crashed," Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio of the wreckage of the plane carrying 51 French nationals which crashed in Mali near the border with Burkina Faso on Thursday.
"We think the aircraft crashed for reasons linked to the weather conditions, although no theory can be excluded at this point," he added.
Separately, Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said the strong smell of aircraft fuel at the crash site and the fact that the debris was scattered over a relatively small area also suggested the cause of the crash was linked to weather, a technical problem or a cumulation of such factors.
Mr Cuvillier said the possibility of a strike from the ground had been ruled out “from the start", rejecting speculation that rebels in Mali’s restive north could have shot the plane down.
He said it was extremely unlikely, and even “out of the question", that any of the 116 people on board the plane had survived.
“Given the state of the plane (wreck), it is very unlikely, even out of the question, that there are any survivors,” Mr Cuvillier said on French television, adding that French military forces were heading to the site where the jet, which was carrying 51 French nationals, crashed.
The jet’s Spanish crew had signalled they were altering course due to difficult weather conditions, and company sources and officials said there had been reports of heavy storms at the time.