[This story has been updated multiple times.]
An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people disappeared from radar early Thursday and is believed to have crashed in Western Africa, according to reports.
Swiftair, a Spanish contract airline that operated Air Algerie Flight 5017, said it left Ouagadougou for Algiers at 1:17 a.m. local time Thursday, the Associated Press reported. There were 110 passengers and six crew members on board.
Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Thursday afternoon said the wreckage of Flight 5017 had been “spotted between northern towns of Aguelhoc and Kidal,” according to Reuters, though he didn’t provide additional details.
Later in the day, an army coordinator in Ouagadougou told AFP that the crash site was located “50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the Burkina Faso border.”
“We have found the Algerian plane,” he said.
BREAKING: Burkina Faso official says wreckage, remains from missing Air Algerie flight found in Mali.
— The Associated Press (@AP) July 24, 2014
Even after those statements, however, information remained scarce (and conflicting). It was unclear what exactly happened to the plane — or the more than 100 passengers aboard — as the searched continued Thursday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, there were a handful of reports, citing unnamed sources, claiming that the plane had crashed. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the plane “probably crashed,” according to the AP, and French President Francois Hollande said: “everything allows us to believe this plane crashed in Mali.”
“If this catastrophe is confirmed, it would be a major tragedy that hits our entire nation, and many others,” Fabius said.
The plane — which was scheduled to arrive in Algeria on Thursday morning at 5:10 a.m. (1:10 a.m. Eastern time) — carried passengers from Algeria, Mali, Belgium, Luxembourg, Canada, Burkina Faso, France, Germany, Nigeria, Cameroon, Libya, Egypt, Ukraine, Romania and Switzerland, Swiftair said in a statement.
#BREAKING: About 50 French nationals on missing Algeria flight: Mali official
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) July 24, 2014
Air navigation services lost track of the plane about 50 minutes after takeoff, the official Algerian news agency reported. That means that Flight 5017 had been missing for hours before the news was made public, according to AP, which added:
The flight path of the plane from Ouagadougou, the capital of the west African nation of Burkina Faso, to Algiers wasn’t immediately clear. Ougadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali where unrest continues in the north.
Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo told reporters that about 20 minutes into the flight, the AH5017 pilots asked air control to change the plane’s course, due to rain, the AP reported. There were reports of a sandstorm in the area, the New York Times reported.
“There was a lot of damage from the wind, especially in the region of Kidal,” Kata Data Alhousseini Maiga, an official with a United Nations mission in Gao, told the paper. “The sand was so thick that you couldn’t see.”
According to Weather.com, satellites showed thunderstorms between the two cities.
“Satellite images showed strong thunderstorm activity just north of Ouagadougou at the reported time of the incident,” said weather.com meteorologist Nick Wiltgen. “The thunderstorms had been moving southwestward into that area for several hours, so in theory air traffic controllers would have been aware of them and adjusting flight paths accordingly.”
— Nick Wiltgen (@WxNick) July 24, 2014
Flight 5017’s disappearance comes a week after the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was downed in Ukraine on July 17, killing nearly 300 people. TransAsia Airways plane crashed in Taiwan on Wednesday, killing more than 40. On Tuesday, after a rocket landed near Ben Gurion International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration told U.S. airlines to stop flying to Tel Aviv. The ban was lifted late Wednesday, about 15 minutes before midnight.