PARIS: France said yesterday it would repatriate the bodies of all 118 people who were aboard an Air Algerie plane that crashed in Mali, as it declared an unofficial three-day period of mourning.
“When it will be possible, all bodies will be brought back to France, all the bodies of all the passengers on the flight,” President Francois Hollande told reporters after meeting with relatives of the victims.
France was hit hardest by the crash, with 54 nationals killed.
But the jet, which was travelling from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers when it went down in a remote area of Mali, was also carrying passengers and crew from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg.
Hollande also said flags on every public building would fly at half-mast for three days from Monday to mourn the air disaster.
The presidency said it was not an official national mourning period, which must be decided at cabinet meetings, but rather a sign of mourning.
Meanwhile, the second black box from the Air Algerie plane disaster was recovered yesterday at the remote crash site in northern Mali as investigators headed to the scene to determine the cause of the tragedy.
Hollande, who met families of some of the victims in Paris, said the bodies of all 118 victims of Thursday’s accident would be repatriated to France and a memorial would be erected at the site.
Officials who had already reached Mali’s remote, barren Gossi area described a scene of total devastation littered with twisted and burnt fragments of the plane.
No one survived the impact and entire families were wiped out, with France bearing the brunt of the disaster as 54 nationals were killed in the crash of the McDonnell Douglas 83, which had taken off from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and was bound for Algiers.
“A memorial will be put up so that no one forgets that 118 people perished in this area,” he told reporters.
But the identification of bodies could be an arduous task given the violent impact of the crash.
“It is difficult to retrieve anything, even victims’ bodies, because we have only seen body parts on the ground,” said General Gilbert Diendiere, chief of the military staff of Burkina Faso’s presidency.
A member of a delegation sent to the crash site by President Blaise Compaore, Diendiere added that “debris was scattered over an area of 500 metres (yards) which is due to the fact that the plane hit the ground and then probably rebounded.”
Experts from France’s Bureau of Investigations and Analyses agency (BEA) which investigates air accidents were due to fly to the scene by helicopter in the afternoon, spokeswoman Martine Del Bono said.
Meanwhile, the scale of the tragedy for some communities became clear as it emerged that 10 members of one French family died in the crash.
“It’s brutal. It has wiped an entire family from the earth,” said Patrice Dunard, mayor of Gex, where four of the Reynaud family lived.