Investigators have begun combing the site and wreckage of Air Algérie's Flight AH 5017 that crashed in Gossi in northern Mali on July 24, 2014, killing all 118 people aboard; almost half of them French. Meanwhile, the plane's two black boxes or data flight recorders have been recovered and sent to France for investigations as the country observes three days of national mourning.
Radio France Internationale, RFI, reported yesterday, July 28, 2014 that almost 200 body parts have already been recovered, though high temperatures and heavy rains were making the task of investigators difficult. Eye witnesses say the impact of the crash was such that hardly anything was left intact; with the debris spread over a wide area of about 300 metres.
Investigators are said to be working against time, given that it has been days since the crash took place. Adjacent the site, tents have been set up for the first analyses to be carried out. Though the site has been secured by French, UN and Malian troops, trespassing by animals is tampering with possible vital evidence. Thus, experts warn that it could be weeks, even months, before the investigations are completed. The area in which the aircraft crashed remains disputed by Tuareg rebels as well as Islamist groups, also making investigations potentially difficult.
Preliminary investigations suggest that the plane fell in one big piece at a fast rate, then disintegrated as it caught fire. According to Col. Patrick Touron, who is leading the French investigations, every square metre of land is being combed to recover vital body parts that will be crucial in identifying the dead through their relatives. After which plane parts will be examined again for clues as to what happened.
The Air Algérie jet was flying from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to Algiers, Algeria, when it went down in the desolate part of Mali near the border with Burkina Faso. The pilot had advised that he must change routes due to a storm, following which contact with the control tower in Niger was lost. The MD-83 plane was owned by the Spanish company, Swiftair, and leased to Air Algérie. Officials said the passengers included 24 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, four Algerians, two from Luxembourg, one Belgian, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian, one Ukrainian and one Romanian. Lebanese officials however said there were at least 10 of their citizens on the flight.