French troops who discovered the wreckage of the Air Algerie flight that disappeared over the African nation of Mali reported Friday that the plane appeared to have disintegrated and there were no survivors.
Photographs of the crash scene at Gossi near the Malian border with Burkina Faso showed small pieces of the aircraft scattered over a relatively small area of African desert.
The final death toll for Flight 5017, which plunged from the sky less than 50 minutes after taking off early Thursday from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, stood at 118. The victims included the plane's six Spanish crew members.
Humanitarian workers, tourists and European expatriates were among those who died. Fifty-four of the passengers were French, including 10 people from the same family, and French President Francois Hollande described it as a tragedy for the “whole French nation … and others.”
“There are, sadly, no survivors,” he told journalists Friday morning. “Our thoughts are with the victims, their families and friends. We stand by their side.”
French television station France 2 aired video of the crash scene from above that showed a blackened crater in the sand. Debris suggested the plane hit the ground at a high speed and shattered.
Witnesses said there were “no seats, no luggage, no trace of human beings,” describing the plane as “pulverized.”
Among the dead were three generations of the Reynaud family from the Rhone Alpes region of France. Michel Reynaud, his former wife, their two sons and two daughters-in-law as well as four grandchildren were returning from Burkina Faso after attending a family wedding.
“It's a tragedy, it was the holiday of a lifetime for them,” a grieving friend told the French newspaper Le Dauphine Libere.
Soon after a French military drone identified the crash site at Gossi early Friday morning, French soldier, in Mali to fight Islamic militants, secured the area with the help of Malian troops.
One of the plane's flight recorders was quickly found and sent for examination. France also sent an air investigation team to the scene.
The plane disappeared from radar screens shortly after the pilot asked to divert from the flight path to Algiers, the Algerian capital, because of poor visibility in heavy storms.
Frederic Cuvillier, the French transportation minister, attributed the crash to “extremely bad weather conditions.”
“Was that the [sole] cause, or was there a technical problem, which compounded the situation?” Cuvillier told journalists. “That we will have to find out.”
At a news conference Friday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the search “in an area of savanna and sand” was being hampered by the rainy season in the region. He said there were 180 French and Malian troops at the crash site.
“Our aim is to return the bodies to the families as soon as possible,” Fabius said.
Willsher is a special correspondent.