An Air Algerie flight en route to Algiers from Burkina Faso with 116 people aboard — including 50 French citizens — crashed Thursday in northeastern Mali, the airlines said.
The airlines said on its Twitter account that the plane went down about 40 miles from the Malian city of Gao. It did not give any additional details.
"The plane disappeared at Gao (in Mali), (300 miles) from the Algerian border. Several nationalities are among the victims," Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was cited as saying by Algerian radio, the French news agency AFP reports.
Ouagadougou Airport in Burkina Faso says on its Facebook page that the passengers on the flight included two European officials of French nationality stationed in Ouagadougou and Mariela Castro niece of Fidel Castro, former president of Cuba. The claims could not be immediately verified.
Air navigation services lost track of AH0517 about 50 minutes after takeoff at 0155 GMT (9:55 p.m. ET Wednesday), the Algerian news agency APS reports.
An unidentified Algerian aviation official also told Reuters that the plane had crashed, but declined to provide details on where the plane was or what caused the accident.CBS News also quotes an unidentified Algerian officials as saying the plane had crashed.
The pilot reportedly contacted air traffic control in Niamey, Niger, to change course because of a storm, the BBC reports.
The French news agency AFP quotes an unidentified source with the airlines as saying 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-Bamako route."
The flight encountered thunderstorms with frequent lightning while flying across southern Mali, but, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani, the thunderstorms were not particularly violent.
"In general, there were scattered showers and thunderstorms across all of Burkina Faso and the southern half of Mali." Sagliani said. "This was with the monsoon trough which is typically found here in late July. So this activity was quite normal."
United Nations troops in Mali say they understand the plane came down between Gao and Tessalit, the BBC's Alex Duval Smith in the Malian capital Bamako reports.
The French military sent two fighter jets based in the region to try to locate the missing plane, according to Reuters. France 24 TV quotes an official from Niger as saying the French have sent three military reconnaissance planes to help in the search.
Swiftair, the owner of the missing plane operated by Air Algerie, Algeria's national airline, says 110 passengers and six crew were aboard. The aircraft is an MD-83, according to Reuters.
The airline confirmed on Twitter that 50 of the passengers are French citizens. French Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier says "likely many" French passengers were aboard the missing flight, France 24 TV reports. The six-person crew — including the two pilots — are Spanish, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reports.
Also among the passengers are 24 citizens of Burkina Faso, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, and four Germans, Air Algerie said.
Flight AH 5017 flies the Ouagadougou-Algiers route four times a week, AFP reported. It was supposed to land in the Algerian capital at 0510 GMT (1:10 a.m. ET Thursday), according to the Algerian newspaper The Daily Star.
Ouagadougou, the capital of the west African nation of Burkina Faso, is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali where unrest continues in the north.
However, a senior French official said it was unlikely that fighters in Mali had weaponry that could shoot down a plane, the Associated Press reports. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak for attribution, said the fighters have shoulder-fired weapons that could not hit an aircraft at cruising altitude.
Though crashes of commercial passenger planes have become rare, it's not unprecedented for them to occur within a short time period.
Two commercial passenger planes crashed within days of each other in December 2012. A Fokker 100 flying for Burma-based Air Bagan crash-landed in Burma, also known as Myanmar, on Dec. 25, killing one passenger and a person on the ground, according to The Aviation Herald.
On Dec. 29, a repositioning flight on a Tupelov Tu-204 flying for Russian carrier Red Wings Airlines overran a runway in Moscow. Five of the eight crewmembers were killed, according RT.com.
Passenger planes flying regularly scheduled airline flights crashed within the same week in 2011. A flight for Hewa Bora Airways, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, crashed in that country July 8. On July 11, a flight on Russian carrier Angara Airlines ditched in Russia's Ob River after an engine caught fire, The Aviation Heraldreported. On July 16, a flight on Brazilian carrier Noar Linhas Aereas crashed after takeoff from Recife.
Contributing: Ben Mutzabaugh, Doyle Rice, Associated Press
Follow Doug Stanglin on Twitter: @dstanglin