- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Algerian airline plane that went off radar Thursday morning was purposefully diverted from its flight path due to a thunderstorm and to avoid contact with another plane flying the same skies, authorities said.

The Swiftair MD-83 craft carrying 116 passengers and crew — including 50 French citizens — vanished from radar just 50 minutes after takeoff, en route to Algiers from Ouagadougou, the capital of the west African nation of Burkina Faso. The plane’s path normally takes it right over Mali, the site of al Qaeda unrest and violence.

In addition to the 50 French citizens, Spanish nationals were aboard the plane, the Daily Mail reported.

A source from Air Algerie told Agence France-Presse that flight AH5017 vanished from radar while still in Malian air space, just outside the border with Algeria.

“The plane was not far from the Algerian frontier when the crew was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent the risk of collision with another aircraft on the Algiers-Barnako route,” the source said, the Daily Mail reported. “Contact was lost after the change of course.”

A diplomat working at the Malian capital of Barmako said that the northern area of the nation had been hit by a powerful sandstorm in the overnight hours, the Daily Mail reported.

And the Daily Mail cited another source as saying the plane was diverted when crew members were told of an approaching thunderstorm, and asked to change course to maintain visibility and passenger safety.

Fox News reported two French fighter jets are heading to the region, while airline authorities said an “emergency plan” has been set in motion to locate the missing craft.

Issa Saly Maiga, who heads up Mali’s National Civil Aviation Agency, said the search for the plane was underway but that authorities have no idea “if the plane is in Malian territory,” the Daily Mail reported. “Aviation authorities are mobilized in all the countries concerned — Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Algeria and even Spain.”