Investigators at the scene of the crash in northern Mali concluded the airliner broke apart when it hit the ground, the officials said, suggesting this meant it was unlikely to have been the victim of an attack.
“French soldiers who are on the ground have started the first investigations. Sadly there are no survivors,” French President Francois Hollande told reporters.
A column of 100 soldiers and 30 vehicles from the French force stationed in the region arrived early on Friday morning to secure the crash site near the northern Mali town of Gossi and recover bodies, a Defence Ministry official said.
Hollande said one of the black box flight recorders had already been recovered and would be analyzed quickly.
“The plane’s debris is concentrated in a small area, but it is too early to draw conclusions,” Hollande said of the wreckage of the plane carrying 51 French nationals that crashed near the border with Burkina Faso, from where it had taken off.
“The are theories, especially the weather, but I’m not excluding any theory.”
Aviation officials lost contact of flight AH5017 at around 0155 GMT on Thursday, less than an hour after taking off for Algeria, following a request by the pilot to change course due to bad weather.
“The aircraft was destroyed at the moment it crashed,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio.
Another plane crash is likely to add to nerves over flying a week after a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over Ukraine, and a TransAsia Airways plane crashed off Taiwan during a thunderstorm on Wednesday.
International airlines also temporarily canceled flights into Tel Aviv this week, citing security concerns amid the instability in Gaza.
Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said the strong smell of aircraft fuel at the crash site and the fact that the debris was scattered over a relatively small area also suggested the cause of the crash was linked to weather, a technical problem or a cumulation of such factors.
“We exclude – and have done so from the start – any ground strike,” Cuvillier told France 2 television.
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was due to visit the crash site later on Friday.
France deployed troops to Mail last year to halt an al Qaeda-backed insurgency and has about 1,600 soldiers based in Mali predominantly in the northern city of Gao.
Other than the French nationals, Burkina Faso authorities said the passenger list included 27 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two from Luxembourg, one Cameroonian, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukranian, one Swiss, one Nigerian and one Malian.
Spanish private airline company Swiftair, which owned the plane, said the six crew were Spanish. It confirmed in a statement on Friday that the wreckage of the plane had been found in Mali without survivors, adding it was too early to talk about the causes of the accident. (Reuters)