"Sadly, there are no survivors," President Francois Hollande said on television, a day after flight AH017, carrying 51 French nationals, went down shortly after take-off from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. The wreckage of the McDonnell Douglas 83 plane, operated by Spanish charter firm Swiftair on behalf of Air Algerie, was located 50 kilometres north of the Burkina Faso border in Mali's Gossi region.
In addition to the French victims, passengers and crew hailed from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg.
It was unclear exactly how many people were on board, as Swiftair put the number at 116 while the French presidency said 118 passengers and crew were on the jet. It was on its way to Algiers when it crashed amid reports of heavy storms in the area, shortly after the pilots radioed in that they were diverting course due to difficult weather conditions.
A witness reported seeing the plane "falling" in the difficult-to-access Gossi region.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said meteorological conditions appeared to be the most likely cause of the accident -- the worst air tragedy for French nationals since the crash of the Air France A330 linking Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009.
Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier added that the possibility of a strike from the ground had been ruled out "from the start", quashing speculation that rebels in Mali's restive north could have shot the plane down. But Hollande insisted that no potential cause for the accident was being left out.
Swiftair has a good safety record and the head of France's DGAC civil aviation authority said Thursday that the MD-83 had passed through France this week and been given the all-clear. The plane disaster is the third in the space of just eight days, capping a disastrous week for the aviation industry.
On July 17, a Malaysia Airlines plane crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. And a Taiwanese aircraft crashed in torrential rain in Taiwan on Wednesday, killing 48.