PARIS — As a detachment of French soldiers reached the crash site of an Air Algérie jetliner in Mali, officials in Paris said Friday that the accident was most likely weather-related and that the distribution of the wreckage over a limited area suggested that the plane probably hit the ground intact.
“We rule out — and have from the start — any ground strike,” Frédéric Cuvillier, the French junior minister for transport, told France 2 television Friday. President François Hollande said a data recorder, or “black box,” had been found at the crash site and confirmed that there were no survivors.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Hollande said the number of people who died in the crash was 118, two more than the government and airline officials said Thursday.
Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said verification of the passenger manifest overnight had confirmed there had been 112 passengers and six crew members on board. The number of French victims was also revised upward, to 54 from 51, including several dual-nationals, Fabius said.
Hollande said he spoke by phone Friday with Mali’s president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, and offered France’s full cooperation with the investigation as well as the repatriation of the victims’ bodies.
Following international rules, Mali will lead the investigation into the cause of the accident. But Fabius said that experts from the French Bureau of Investigation and Analysis were expected to arrive in Mali on Saturday and would assume a significant role in the inquiry.
The wreckage of Flight 5017 was found by an international search team just before nightfall Thursday in an isolated area, about 60 miles south of the town of Gao in eastern Mali. Soldiers from Burkina Faso, said they’d found several bodies among the burned-out hull of the plane, a Boeing MD-83.
“We think the aircraft crashed for reasons linked to the weather conditions,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in an interview on the French radio station RTL.
General Gilbert Diendéré, chief of the Burkina Faso general staff, said on local TV that troops discovered the remains of the plane “totally burned out and scattered on the ground.”
Video taken at the crash site by soldiers from Burkina Faso, and broadcast on French television Friday, showed the plane’s charred, fragmentary remains scattered over a broad swath of blackened and muddy terrain.