A French military unit dispatched to secure the site in Mali where an Air Algerie jetliner with 116 people aboard crashed Thursday found no survivors, but was able to recover a black box, French President Francois Hollande announced Friday.
The jet, an MD-83, disappeared from radar less than an hour after departing Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, en route to Algiers.
Officials in Burkina Faso said burned wreckage with human remains was located in Mali, 31 miles from the border with Burkina Faso. A search had been underway for wreckage in the remote region known for separatist violence.
"We think the plane went down due to weather conditions, but no hypothesis can be excluded as long as we don't have the results of an investigation," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio, the Associated Press reported. "Terrorist groups are in the zone … We know these groups are hostile to Western interests," Cazeneuve said.
Before vanishing, the pilots sent a final message to ask Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rain, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said.
Debris scattered across a wide area is revealed in first images of the site where an Air Algerie flight crashed, with the loss of 118 lives. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters Newslook
WRECKAGE:: France 2 posts video of crash site in Mali
A U.S. official speaking off the record initially said one of the passengers was a dual U.S.-French citizen but later said the person had been on the flight manifest but did not board the plane and was at home in France. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because officials were not authorized to speak publicly about the identities of the passengers.
It was the third major international aviation disaster in a week, following the downing of a Malaysian Boeing 777 over eastern Ukraine and the crash of a passenger plane off Taiwan.
The plane was owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Air Algerie.
The passengers included 51 French, 27 Burkina Faso nationals, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two Luxembourg nationals, one Swiss, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian, Ouedraogo said. The six crewmembers were Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots' union.
The deserts and mountains of northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaeda-linked Islamic extremists after a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention scattered the extremists, but the Tuaregs have pushed back against the authority of the Bamako-based government.
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.
Contributing: Donovan Slack, Doyle Rice, Associated Press