BAMAKO (AFP) ― The second black box from the Air Algerie plane disaster was recovered Saturday at the remote crash site in northern Mali as investigators headed to the scene to determine the cause of the tragedy.
French President Francois Hollande, who met families of some of the victims in Paris, said the bodies of all 118 victims of Thursday’s accident would be repatriated to France and a memorial would be erected at the site.
Officials who had already reached Mali’s remote, barren Gossi area described a scene of devastation littered with twisted and burnt fragments of the plane.
No one survived the impact and entire families were wiped out. France bore the brunt of the disaster as 54 of its nationals were killed in the crash of the McDonnell Douglas 83, which had taken off from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso bound for Algiers.
Travellers from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg also died in the crash, increasingly being blamed on bad weather that forced the pilots to change course.
Hollande said flags would fly at half-mast from government buildings for three days from Monday to mourn the victims, and all bodies would be repatriated to France as soon as was possible.
“A memorial will be put up so that no one forgets that 118 people perished in this area,” he told reporters.
But the identification of bodies could be an arduous task given the violent impact of the crash.
“It is difficult to retrieve anything, even victims’ bodies, because we have only seen body parts on the ground,” said General Gilbert Diendiere, chief of the military staff of Burkina Faso’s presidency.
A member of a delegation sent to the crash site by President Blaise Compaore, Diendiere added that “debris was scattered over an area of 500 meters (yards) which is due to the fact that the plane hit the ground and then probably rebounded.”
Compaore met on Saturday with relatives of some crash victims in Ouagadougou and announced that Burkina Faso has opened an official inquiry into the cause of the disaster.
The Burkinade prosecutor “will work in close cooperation with his counterparts from Mali and France,” he said.
Experts from France’s Bureau of Investigations and Analyses agency which investigates air accidents were due to fly to the scene by helicopter in the afternoon, spokeswoman Martine Del Bono said.
Meanwhile, the scale of the tragedy for some communities became clear as it emerged that 10 members of one French family died in the crash.
“It’s brutal. It has wiped an entire family from the earth,” said Patrice Dunard, mayor of Gex, where four of the Reynaud family lived.
And the small town of Menet in central France was left devastated when residents discovered that a local family of four ― a couple, their 10-year-old daughter Chloe and their 14-year-old son Elno ― had died.
In Lebanon, one family in the southern El-Kharayeb village died too ― the third time that residents there had been involved in a plane disaster.
The families of some of the victims were being flown Saturday to the crash site from Ouagadougou. The first helicopter left in the morning and another was due to follow.
The MD-83 jet was operated by Spanish charter firm Swiftair ― a company with a good safety record ― on behalf of Air Algerie.
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.
The Air Algerie crash was the third worldwide in the space of just eight days, capping a disastrous week for the aviation industry.
On July 17, a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down in restive eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
And a Taiwanese aircraft crashed in torrential rain in Taiwan on Wednesday, killing 48.
Apart from the BEA experts, France has also dispatched 20 police forces to try and identify the victims and determine the cause of the Air Algerie crash.
One of the flight recorders of the plane was retrieved almost as soon as rescuers arrived on the spot, while the second black box was found late Saturday, according to Radhia Acouri, the spokeswoman for the MINUSMA U.N. stabilization force in Mali.
France has also dispatched military forces already stationed in Gao since because of an offensive it launched in Mali last year to try to rid the north of Islamist extremists.
This year has already seen Algeria mourn the loss of more than 70 people in the crash of a C-130 military aircraft in February.
The north African country is observing a three-day period of national mourning for the latest crash.