Air Algerie plane broke up on impact
Paris - An Air Algerie flight that crashed in Mali killing all 116 people on board broke up on impact after losing air speed and banking sharply, investigators said on Thursday.
Presenting the initial findings of a probe into the 24 July tragedy, Remi Jouty, the head of France's Bureau of Investigations and Analyses (BEA) air safety agency, also told reporters that the cockpit voice recording was currently unusable.
"The tape was a little bit damaged. We were able to extract it... The BEA laboratory was able to restore the tape. Unfortunately the recordings are so far unusable," Jouty said.
The recording device appeared to have been faulty before the crash and the defects were not caused by the impact, he added.
Jouty said the investigation was not sufficiently advanced to offer a definitive cause for the tragedy but explained that the McDonnell Douglas 83 jet had fallen out of the sky vertically at an extremely high speed and was apparently intact when it hit the ground.
"When we look at the trajectory, this leads us to believe that the plane did not break up into several pieces while in flight. This does not exclude that damage was caused during the flight," he said.
"I don't think we can at this point exclude the possibility of a deliberate act but we cannot say more for the moment," he said.
The black box flight recorder, which was usable, showed there was a sudden loss of air speed before the plane banked sharply to the left then plummeted towards the ground amid stormy weather conditions.
It took only around a second for the plane to fall from its last recorded altitude of around 500 metres to the ground of the Malian desert.
Authorities initially thought 118 passengers and crew had died in the disaster but it later emerged that two people did not board the plane.
France bore the brunt of the tragedy, with nearly half of the victims and in some case, whole families wiped out. Other passengers came from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg.
N'Faly Cisse, the head of Mali's civil aviation accident commission, told reporters there would be a fresh progress report in mid-September.
"There will be no further updates until then," he said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has already said that the pilots of the jet, which took off on 24 July from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso bound for Algiers, had asked to turn back as bad weather struck.
International investigators have toiled at the crash site in highly inhospitable conditions and extreme heat.
Forensic experts have resorted to using DNA samples to identify the dead, because the power of the impact shattered the bodies of those on board and scattered debris from the plane over a wide area.
Jouty said that nothing unusual had been found at the crash site that "should not have been there".
Patrick Touron, deputy head of the French police's Criminal Research Institute, told reporters on Tuesday on returning from Mali that more than 1 000 samples had been taken from the site.
"Scientifically, we have a strong possibility of being able to identify all the people," he said.
He added: "The plane dropped at a very high vertical speed, because it was literally pulverised." Those on board would have been killed instantly and would not have felt anything, he said.
President Francois Hollande has said the remains of all passengers on the plane - not just the French - would be flown to France.
The accident was the third crash worldwide in the space of just eight days, capping a disastrous week for the aviation industry.
On 17 July, a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down in restive eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
And a Taiwanese aircraft crashed in torrential rain in Taiwan on 23 July, killing 48.