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Air Algerie flight AH5017 crashes in North Africa

(Please note, this matter is not currently being litigated in Australia)

In an already catastrophic week for international aviation Air Algerie flight AH5017 was reported to be crashed after it lost contact with air traffic controllers about 50 minutes after take off early on Thursday and is thought to have come down between two northeastern Mali towns where the Mali President says wreckage has been spotted.

The aircraft is a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 passenger jet which was enroute from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, to the capital of Algeria, Algiers, and was carrying 116 passengers and crew.  The international flight is a 4 hour journey and was being operated by the owner of the aircraft, Swiftair, a Spanish airline.  The pilot is believed to be Spanish.

The aircraft had been missing for hours after its last contact with Gao air traffic control and it is not immediately clear why this was so.

Air Algerie AH5017 crash lawyers

Source: CBC Canada

Many of the passengers were believed to be on international journeys and transiting to Europe.

The passengers are believed to be:

  • 51 French
  • 27 Burkina Faso nationals
  • 8 Lebanese
  • 6 Algerians
  • 5 Canadians
  • 4 Germans
  • 2 Luxemburg nationals
  • 1 Swiss, 1 Belgian, 1 Egyptian, 1 Ukrainian, 1 Nigerian, 1 Cameroonian and 1 Malian.
The cause of the accident is as yet unknown but which country takes charge of the air accident investigation will be dependent on where the wreckage is confirmed to have been located, under Annex 13 to the Chicago Convention.

The flight demonstrates how international flight accident liability is dependent on far more than the nationality of the passenger or the country of registration of the aircraft.  Burkina Faso, the place of origin of the flight, has ratified the Montreal Convention which, with conditions that permit unlimited recovery when the airline has committed a wrongful act or negligence which contributed to the accident, permits effectively uncapped compensation for proven financial losses.

Algeria has only ratified the older Warsaw Convention and the Hague Protocol which caps compensation but the cap can only be “broken” through a slightly different mechanism than under the Montreal Convention (ie, requiring wilful misconduct by the airline).  Whether or not these conventions apply must be determined on a case by case manner for those onboard.

As the accident search, rescue and investigation continue we send our thoughts to those affected by this tragic event in a year of tragic aviation stories.

Update 25 July 2014

The search continues for Air Algerie AH5017 after an Algerian Official told Reuters that the plane crashed on its way to Algeria’s capital. Conflicting reports conclude that wreckage of the airplane has been found near the village of Boulikessi in Mali, while others state that wreckage has been sighted in the country’s desert between Aguelhok and Kidal. None of these reports have yet been confirmed.

France has deployed two of its military jets that were present in the area to look for wreckage of the MD-83 plane. Similar to the situation in Ukraine surrounding MH17, fears are growing that scattered separatist violence in the area may interfere with the investigation if AH5017 is eventually found.

The aircraft is said to have been built in 1996 by McDonnell Douglas, a U.S company now owned by Boeing. Swiftair confirmed that the plane has Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 PW engines. Since its fleet went into service in 1985, there have been three fatal accidents involving MD-83 aircrafts. The worst of the three occurred in 2012 when Dana Air flight 992 crashed in Lagos killing all 153 people on board.

If it is confirmed that AH5017 has crashed, it will be the sixth accident and possibly the third fatal one since 1977 that has involved Spanish owned Swiftair.  Swiftair has two recorded fatal accidents, both killing eight people.

The last major accident involving the operator of the aircraft, Air Algerie, occurred in 2003 when a Boeing 737-200 flying between the southern Algerian city of Tamanrasset and Algiers experienced engine failure shortly after take off. There was only one survivor out of the 78 passengers on board.


The Shine Lawyers Aviation Department will continue to monitor the aftermath of the events in Africa as they unfold.


Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: July 24, 2014.

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