ALGIERS, Algeria — An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital disappeared from radar early Thursday over northern Mali during a rainstorm, officials said. France deployed fighter jets to search for wreckage and the country's president said the plane most likely crashed.
The MD-83 vanished less than an hour after takeoff from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Air Algerie Flight 5017 was operated by Spanish airline Swiftair, which owns the plane.
"Everything allows us to believe this plane crashed in Mali," French President Francois Hollande said in a statement after an emergency meeting in Paris with senior officials, adding the crew changed its flight path because of "particularly difficult weather conditions."
Earlier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Paris the plane "probably crashed" and no "trace of the aircraft has been found."
Two French fighter jets are among aircraft scouring the rugged north of Mali for the plane, which was traveling from Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, to Algiers, the Algerian capital.
Hollande said "all military means we have in Mali" were being activated for the search, through the night if needed. France has considerable military means in Mali, because of its intervention in the country in January 2013 to rout Islamic extremists who were controlling the north.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, was also helping in the search, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
More than 50 French were onboard the plane along with 27 Burkina Faso nationals and passengers from a dozen other countries. The flight crew was Spanish.
Before vanishing, the pilots sent a final message to ask Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rain in the area, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said.
A resident who lives in a village in Mali about 80 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of the town of Gossi said he saw a plane coming down early Thursday, according to Gen. Gilbert Diendere, heading the crisis committee set up in Burkina Faso.
"We think that it is a reliable source because it corresponds to the latest radar images of the plane before it lost contact with air controllers," Diendere said.
Radar images show the plane deviated from its route, Diendere said. Gossi is nearly 200 kilometers (175 miles) southwest of Gao. The vast deserts and mountains of northern Mali have been the scene of unrest by both Tuareg separatists and Islamist radicals.
The disappearance of the Air Algerie plane comes after a spate of aviation disasters. Fliers around the globe have been on edge ever since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March on its way to Beijing. Searchers have yet to find a single piece of wreckage from the jet with 239 people on board.
Last week, a Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down by a surface-to-air missile while flying over a war-torn section of Ukraine. The back-to-back disasters involving Boeing 777s flown by the same airline were too much of a coincidence for many fliers.
Then this week, U.S. and European airlines started canceling flights to Tel Aviv after a rocket landed near the city's airport. Finally, on Wednesday, a Taiwanese plane crashed during a storm, killing 48 people.
It's easy to see why fliers are jittery, but air travel is relatively safe.
There have been two deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights in the last decade, excluding acts of terrorism. Travelers are much more likely to die driving to the airport than stepping on a plane. There are more than 30,000 motor-vehicle deaths in the U.S. each year, a mortality rate eight times greater than that in planes.