France says there are no survivors from the Air Algerie flight that crashed in Mali, as it emerged that several families had been wiped out in the tragedy.
Such was the apparent violence of the crash – increasingly blamed on bad weather – that debris shown in the first available footage of the impact site were barely recognisable as parts of an aircraft.
There were conflicting tolls of whether there were 118 or 116 people aboard the flight.
“Sadly, there are no survivors,” President Francois Hollande said on television, a day after the plane, carrying 54 French nationals, went down shortly after take-off from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.
The McDonnell Douglas 83 jet, operated by Spanish charter firm Swiftair on behalf of Air Algerie, was also carrying passengers and crew from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg.
It was unclear exactly how many people were on board, as Swiftair put the number at 116 while the French presidency said 118 passengers and crew were on the jet.
On Friday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius revised the death toll of French nationals up from 51 to 54.
The first footage of the crash site in Mali’s hard-to-reach Gossi region, filmed by soldiers from nearby Burkina Faso, showed a stark, sandy-looking terrain littered with debris, the ground blackened in some areas.
The jet was on its way to Algiers when it crashed amid reports of heavy storms in the area, shortly after the pilots radioed in that they were diverting course due to difficult weather conditions.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said weather conditions appeared to be the most likely cause of the accident – the worst air tragedy for French nationals since the crash of the Air France A330 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009.
Whatever the cause of the crash, the human face of the tragedy was becoming ever-more poignant as the hours went by, with humanitarians, expatriates, tourists and entire families among the victims.
In one particularly tragic case, 10 members of the same French family were on board the plane, the mayors of the towns where some of them lived said.
The plane crash is the third in the space of just eight days, capping a disastrous week for the aviation industry.
On July 17, a Malaysia Airlines plane crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
And a Taiwanese aircraft crashed in torrential rain in Taiwan on Wednesday, killing 48.