Search The Archives

Thursday, July 24, 2014

AIR ALGERIE / SWIFTAIR FLIGHT 5017: MISSING AFTER 11 HOURS, REPORTED AS CRASHED IN MALI

Air Algerie plane 'crashes' with 116 on board after going missing over Mali

Air Algerie plane with 110 passengers and six crew reportedly crashes after losing contact with air traffic control over Mali after taking off from Burkina Faso to Algeria.


The plane was an Air Algerie aircraft, and lost contact with air traffic controllers 50 minutes after takeoff.  It is not yet clear what route the plane was taking when it went missing, but would most likely have been flying over either Mali or Niger.  Contact was lost with the plane some time after 01.55GMT (02.55 UK), according the official Algerian news agency.  The missing airplane is owned by Spanish private airline Swiftair, and operated by Air Algerie.

Flight AH5017 was in Malian air space approaching the border with Algeria when contact was lost, a source from Air Algerie has shared in confidence with a mainstream news agency.  The plane was not far from the Algerian frontier when the crew was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent the risk of collision with another aircraft on the Algiers-Bamako route.  Contact was lost after the change of course.

An Algerian aviation official has told Reuters that the last contact Algerian authorities had with the missing Air Algerie aircraft was at 0155 GMT (02.55am UK time) when it was flying over Gao, Mali.
Aviation authorities in Burkina Faso say they handed the flight to the control tower in Niamey, Niger, at 1:38am local time (02.38 UK time). They said last contact with the flight was just after 4:30am local time (04.30 UK).
Reports on the safety record of Swiftair, the Spanish company which owned and staffed the missing flight. The airline, according to Aviation Safety Network, has only had four accidents since it was founded in 1986:
  1. October 1993 one of its aircraft was written off when the crew forgot to lower the landing gear as the plane arrived in Madrid. In May 1995, another aircraft was damaged beyond repair during a botched landing at Vitoria airport in Spain.
  2. July 1998 two crew were killed when a cargo aircraft crashed en-route to Barcelona when the pilot lost control of the plane and in January 2012 a plane sustained substantial damage during a botched landing at Kandahar.

Swiftair has said the missing plane was built in 1996 and has two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 PW engines. It can carry 165 passengers.  Swiftair took ownership of the plane on Oct. 24, 2012, after it spent nearly 10 months unused in storage, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Online Fleets, which sells and tracks information about aircraft.  It has more than 37,800 hours of flight time and has made more than 32,100 takeoffs and landings. The plane has had several owners over the years, including Avianca and Austral Lineas Aereas.
This comes only one week after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was allegedly shot down over hostile territory in Ukraine at a reported altitude of 33,000 feet.  There is much dispute over the facts of the crash of MAS Flight 17, and an ONGOING investigation into the now infamous Malaysia Airline Flight MH 370.
Many are becoming increasingly concerned over the safety of air travel.  The FAA has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) regarding the area where the current Air Algerie flight went missing near Mali:
SECURITY MALI U.S. OPERATORS AND AIRMEN SHOULD AVOID OPERATING INTO, OUT OF, WITHIN OR OVER MALI AT OR BELOW FL240 (24,000 FEET) DUE TO INSURGENT ACTIVITY. THERE IS RISK TO THE SAFETY OF U.S. CIVIL FLIGHTS OPERATING INTO, OUT OF, WITHIN OR OVER MALI FROM SMALL-ARMS,  ROCKET-PROPELLED GRENADES, ROCKETS AND MORTARS, AND ANTI-AIRCRAFT  FIRE, TO INCLUDE SHOULDER-FIRED, MAN-PORTABLE AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMS  (MANPADS). 
U.S. OPERATORS AND AIRMEN PLANNING TO FLY INTO, OUT OF,  WITHIN, OR OVER MALI AT OR BELOW FL240 MUST OBTAIN CURRENT THREAT INFORMATION; COMPLY WITH ALL APPLICABLE FAA REGULATIONS, OPERATIONS  SPECIFICATIONS, MANAGEMENT SPECIFICATIONS AND LETTERS OF AUTHORIZATION; AND PROVIDE ADVANCE NOTICE OF PLANNED FLIGHTS TO THE  FAA AT AEO-CITEWATCH@FAA.GOV WITH SPECIFIC FLIGHT DETAILS. 
It should be noted, that Swiftair, which is registered in Spain, is governed by rules established by the European Aviation Space Agency (EASA).  According to airline analysts, there was nothing to indicate that the missing flight, a MD-83 type aircraft, had any mechanical issues, and overall is a very reliable airplane with a good safety rating (low fatalities : flight hour ratio).  Additionally, this particular flight was reported to have ample fuel for the flight, with reserves for at least another hour of flight time in the event of bad weather which was active in that region during its flight. 

As for the passengers and crew, the following has been reported as the souls on board:

The list of passengers according to Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo includes:
  • 51 French, 
  • 27 Burkina Faso nationals, 
  • eight Lebanese, 
  • six Algerians, 
  • five Canadians, 
  • four Germans, 
  • two Luxemburg nationals, 
  • one Swiss, one Belgian, 
  • one Egyptian, 
  • one Ukrainian, 
  • one Nigerian, 
  • one Cameroonian and 
  • one Malian
However, AFP is reporting that "at least 20" passengers were Lebanese. The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots' union.
As of the time of this article (12:12PM EDT) French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has been on the record stating that there has been no observation of the wreckage, and French Military Aircraft are actively searching for any signs of the downed / missing flight.   Patrick Gandil, head of the French civil aviation authority, said the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 "passed through France in Marseille two or three days ago. We examined it and we found almost nothing, it was really in good condition."