The remains of the 118 victims from the Algerian passenger jet that went down in Mali last week have been "pulverized," making identification extremely difficult, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday.
The two black boxes, which were quickly found, arrived in France on Monday and six engineers are already working on them, Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said.
Analysis of the data and voice recorders will be precious in trying to determine why the Air Algerie flight fell from the sky last Thursday. However, it was not immediately clear whether the boxes were in decent enough shape to be read. French authorities say extremely bad weather was the likely cause, but rule out nothing.
Victims from 15 countries were aboard the aircraft, leased by Air Algerie from the Spanish company Swiftair, and 54 of the passengers were from France — nearly half. Mali heads up the investigation, but France is taking a leading role and the identification of victims will take place there.
Five Canadians, including a family of four from Quebec, also died in the incident, as well several permanent residents of Quebec.
Pilot asked to turn back
Fabius said the pilot of the MD-83 had asked to turn back after telling the control tower he wanted to change route due to the weather — the first time an official said the pilot wanted to abandon the trip from Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, to Algiers, Algeria.
Fabius reiterated that "it is too soon to [say with] certitude" why the aircraft went down some 50 minutes after takeoff.
The search for victims is carried out under extremely difficult conditions because the "remains are pulverized," the heat is overwhelming and there is extreme difficulty of communication and transport, Fabius said.
Up to 50 French experts, being joined by others from Mali, Algeria, Spain and other countries, are sifting through tiny airplane parts at the site, secured by some 200 French troops.
The transport minister said if the black boxes are intact, analyzing them will still take several weeks.