July 24, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Algeria jet wreckage discovered in Mali

The logo of the Air Algerie company office, at the Opera avenue in Paris July 24, 2014. A flight operated by Air Algerie has disappeared from radar while traveling from Burkina Faso in West Africa to Algiers. (Remy de la Mauviniere / AP)

Ouagadougo, Burkina Faso— An Air Algerie jetliner carrying 116 people crashed Thursday in a rainstorm over restive Mali, and its wreckage was found near the border of neighboring Burkina Faso — the third major international aviation disaster in a week.

The plane, owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Algeria’s flagship carrier, disappeared from radar less than an hour after it took off from Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou for Algiers.

French fighter jets, U.N. peacekeepers and others hunted for the wreckage of the MD-83 in the remote region, where scattered separatist violence may hamper an eventual investigation into what happened.

It was found about 31 miles from the border of Burkina Faso near the village of Boulikessi in Mali, a Burkina Faso presidential aide said.

“We sent men, with the agreement of the Mali government, to the site, and they found the wreckage of the plane with the help of the inhabitants of the area,” said Gen. Gilbert Diendere, a close aide to Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore and head of the crisis committee set up to investigate the flight.

“They found human remains and the wreckage of the plane totally burnt and scattered,” he said.

He told the Associated Press that rescuers went to the area after they had heard from a resident that he saw the plane go down 50 miles southwest of Malian town of Gossi. Burkina Faso’s government spokesman said the country will observe 48 hours of mourning.

Malian state television also said the debris of Flight 5017 was found in the village of Boulikessi and was found by a helicopter from Burkina Faso. Algeria’s transport minister also said the wreckage had apparently been found. French officials could not confirm the discovery late Thursday.

“We found the plane by accident” near Boulikessi, said Sidi Ould Brahim, a Tuareg separatist who travelled from Mali to a refugee camp for Malians in Burkina Faso.

“The plane was burned, there were traces of rain on the plane, and bodies were torn apart,” he told AP.

Families from France to Canada and beyond had been waiting anxiously for word about the jetliner and the fate of their loved ones aboard. Nearly half of the passengers were French, many en route home from Africa.

“Everything allows us to believe this plane crashed in Mali,” French President Francois Hollande said after an emergency meeting in Paris. He said the crew changed its flight path because of “particularly difficult weather conditions.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters, “If this catastrophe is confirmed, it would be a major tragedy that hits our entire nation, and many others.”

The pilots had sent a final message to ask Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rain.