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Air Algerie Black Box Found            07/25 06:19

   PARIS (AP) -- French soldiers on Friday secured one of the black boxes from 
the Air Algerie plane that went down in restive northern Mali with the loss of 
at least 116 people, French President Francois Hollande said Friday. Terrorism 
has not been ruled out as a cause, although officials say the most likely cause 
is bad weather.

   The black box was recovered from the wreckage, in the Gossi region near the 
border with Burkina Faso, and is being taken to the northern city of Gao, where 
a French contingent is based, Hollande told reporters after a crisis meeting 
with top ministers.

   "There are, alas, no survivors," Hollande said. "I share the pain of 
families living through this terrible ordeal."

   Nearly half of the passengers aboard the flight were French, many headed on 
to Europe after arriving in the Algerian capital from the Burkina Faso capital, 
Ouagadougou.

   The president has said that France will spare no efforts to uncover the 
cause of the crash --- the third major plane disaster around the world within a 
week.

   "There are hypotheses, notably weather-related, but we don't rule out 
anything because we want to know what happened," Hollande said.

   "What we know is that the debris is concentrated in a limited space, but it 
is too soon to draw conclusions," he added.

   Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve added, speaking to RTL radio: "Terrorist 
groups are in the zone. ... We know these groups are hostile to Western 
interests."

   The MD-83 aircraft, owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by 
Algeria's flagship carrier, disappeared from radar less than an hour after it 
took off early Thursday from Ouagadougou for Algiers. The plane had requested 
permission to change course due to bad weather.

   A team from France's Accident Investigation Bureau has been sent to Mali, 
Hollande said.

   A French Reaper drone based in Niger initially spotted the wreckage, French 
Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier told France-Info radio on Friday. Two 
helicopter teams also overflew, noting that the wreckage was in a concentrated 
area. A column of soldiers in some 30 vehicles were dispatched to the site, he 
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.

   The pilots had sent a final message to ask Niger air control to change its 
route because of heavy rain, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin 
Ouedraogo said Thursday.

   The vast deserts and mountains of northern Mali fell under control of ethnic 
Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists after a military 
coup in 2012.

   French forces intervened in January 2013 to rout Islamist extremists 
controlling the region. A French soldier was killed earlier this month near the 
major town of Gao, where French troops remain.

   The intervention scattered the extremists, but the Tuaregs have pushed back 
against the authority of the Bamako-based government. Meanwhile, the threat 
from Islamic militants hasn't disappeared, and France is giving its troops a 
new and larger anti-terrorist mission across the region.

   The crash was the third airline disaster within a week.

   Last week, a Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down over war-torn eastern 
Ukraine; the U.S. has blamed it on separatists firing a surface-to-air missile. 
On Wednesday, a Taiwanese plane crashed during a storm, killing 48 people.


(KA)


 
 
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