Updated at 10:04 a.m.
An Air Algerie flight crashed on Thursday en route from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers with 110 passengers on board, an Algerian aviation official said.
There were few clear indications of what might of happened to the aircraft, or whether there were casualties, but Burkino Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedrago said it asked to change route at 0138 GMT (9.38 p.m. EDT) because of a storm in the area.
"I can confirm that it has crashed," the Algerian official told Reuters, declining to be identified or give any details about what had happened to the aircraft on its way north.
Almost half of the passengers were French citizens, an airline official said.
Two French fighter jets based in the region have been dispatched to try to locate the airliner along its probable route, a French army spokesman said. Niger security sources said planes were flying over the border region with Mali to search for the flight.
Algeria's state news agency APS said authorities lost contact with flight AH 5017 an hour after it took off from Burkina Faso, but other officials gave differing accounts of the times of contact, adding to confusion about the plane's fate.
Swiftair, the private Spanish company that owns the plane, confirmed it had lost contact with the MD-83 operated by Air Algerie, which it said was carrying 110 passengers and six crew.
A diplomat in the Malian capital Bamako said that the north of the country - which lies on the plane's likely flight path - was struck by a powerful sandstorm overnight.
Whatever the cause, another plane crash is likely to add to nerves in the industry after a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over Ukraine last week, a TransAsia Airways crashed off Taiwan during a thunderstorm on Wednesday and airlines canceled flights into Tel Aviv due to the conflict in Gaza.
An Air Algerie representative in Burkina Faso, Kara Terki, told a news conference that all the passengers on the plane were in transit, either for Europe, the Middle East or Canada.
He said the passenger list included 50 French, 24 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, four Algerians, two from Luxembourg, one Belgian, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian, one Ukrainian and one Romanian. Lebanese officials said there were at least 10 Lebanese citizens on the flight.
A spokeswoman for SEPLA, Spain’s pilots union, said the six crew were from Spain. She could not give any further details.
An Air Algerie flight that had taken off from Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou went missing on Thursday, according to several news sources.
Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) lost contact with the plane at 0155 GMT, 50 minutes after it took to the skies at 0117 local time and was supposed to land in Algiers at 0510 local time but never reached its destination.
Though official confirmation is awaited, reports said that Flight AH5017 was operated by Spanish airline Swiftair for Air Algerie. The plane was a McDonnell Douglas MD83.
Reports added that 110 passengers and 6 crew members were onboard the missing aircraft. The plane was headed to Algiers, capital of Algeria. Air Algerie is the national carrier of Algeria which flies the four-hour passenger route four times a week..
News agency AFP quoted a source in the airline saying that contact with the flight was lost while it was still in Malian airspace approaching 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-Bamako route," the source said. "Contact was lost after the change of course."
Updated at 9:12 a.m. with information from the Washington Post:
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.”