September 20, 2014 / 6:58 PM / in 3 years

Cause of Air Algerie July crash in Mali still unknown

BAMAKO/PARIS (Reuters) - Investigators studying the sudden plunge of an Air Algerie plane from an altitude of more than 30,000 feet onto Malian scrubland in July still do not have an explanation, they said on Saturday.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft on its way from the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou to Algiers smashed onto the ground on July 24 near the town of Gossi, killing all 116 passengers and crew.

“For the moment, there is not one particular lead that is being given more importance than any other,” Bernard Boudaille, from France’s BEA air accident investigator, said at a news conference in Bamako.

French President Francois Hollande visited families of the 54 French victims to offer his support on Saturday, his office said. The process of formally identifying the bodies is due to be completed in early 2015, it said.

Officials have previously said they believe bad weather was an important factor in the crash of flight AH5017 but have not ruled out other factors.

Video footage of the crash site shortly after the accident showed small pieces of often unidentifiable debris scattered across a broad area.

N‘Faly Cisse, head of Mali’s investigation, said that one of the challenges was that researchers had still not been able to decrypt the messages on a cockpit voice recorder.

“We are continuing to work on it. We have contacted a number of laboratories to have the maximum information,” he said.

The automatic pilot function was switched off before the crash, although it was not clear if this was a deliberate decision of the pilot, said Cisse.

Flight recordings show no indication of turbulence before the crash, he added, which would be typical in a heavy storm.

Reporting by Adama Diarra and James Regan; Writing by Emma Farge in Dakar; Editing by Dan Grebler

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