France says the pilots of the Air Algerie passenger plane that crashed in Mali, killing all 118 people on board, had asked to turn back.
“What we know for sure is that the weather was bad that night, that the plane crew had asked to change route then to turn back before all contact was lost,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in his latest briefing about Thursday’s disaster.
It had previously been known that the crew asked to change route due to bad weather conditions, but the revelation they then demanded to turn back is a new development.
Speaking hours after the black box flight recorders of the McDonnell Douglas 83 jet arrived in Paris from Mali to help investigators on Monday, Fabius added that air crash experts currently on the remote desert site of the accident were toiling away in “extremely difficult conditions”.
France’s transport minister, meanwhile, warned that analysing the crucial black boxes that record flight data and cockpit conversations could take “weeks”.
Fabius said more than 20 air accident experts were currently in Mali’s remote, barren Gossi area where the plane came down, working in tough conditions to determine why the plane plunged to the ground and to try and recover remains of the victims.
“The (human) remains are pulverised, the heat is overwhelming with rain to boot and with extreme difficulties in communicating and in transport,” he said at the foreign ministry, where the flag flew at half-mast in mourning for the tragedy that saw entire families wiped out.
Video footage of the Gossi area showed a scene of devastation littered with twisted and burnt fragments of the plane.
France bore the brunt of the tragedy, with 54 of its nationals killed in the crash of flight AH5017, which had taken off from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso bound for Algiers.
Victims also hailed from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg.
Several towns across France that lost entire families or couples to the tragedy also announced they would pay hommage to people they held dear.
The central village of Menet, where a family-of-four perished in the crash, said a silent march would take place on Friday in front of the places where the victims used to go, such as the school or certain shops.
“People in the village can’t quite realise what happened. For us, the footage we see on television is extremely violent,” said the mayor Alexis Monier.
The accident is the worst air tragedy to hit France since the crash of the Air France A330 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009.