BEIRUT: An official Lebanese delegation leaves Saturday for Mali to follow up on the investigation into the Air Algerie flight 5107 crash and the repatriation of the remains of Lebanese nationals who perished in the incident.
The Foreign Ministry called on relatives of passengers to come forward for DNA testing by calling 03-211-103 or 01-322-543.
Haitham Jomaa, the director general of Immigrants at the Foreign Ministry, said that DNA samples were key to identifying and repatriating victims.
At least 19 passengers were Lebanese, although several were dual citizens and authorities are still confirming whether an additional two passengers are also of Lebanese origin.
The delegation will include officials from the Foreign Ministry, General Security and the Higher Relief Committee.
The first images of the wreckage emerged Friday following its discovery by a contingent of French soldiers stationed in Mali. The blackened metal and debris appeared to confirm French President Francois Hollande’s statement that none of the 116 passengers or crew survived the crash.
Almost half the passengers on board the flight, which was chartered from the Spanish company Swiftair, from Burkina Faso to Algiers were French. The plane disappeared from radar early Thursday after diverting its route to avoid strong storms.
French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier denied the plane had been shot down from the ground, possibly by rebels in Mali’s restive north. Hours after finding the wreckage in Mali, the French interior minister said that the most likely cause of the crash was the weather.
“We think that this plane crashed for reasons pertaining to meteorological conditions,” Bernard Cazeneuve said on RTL radio, adding it was the “most probable hypothesis” although authorities were not excluding other potential causes for the crash.
One of the plane’s black boxes was recovered intact but has not yet been analyzed.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Lebanon was working with France to facilitate the operation, but warned that the recovery process would not be easy.
“We are dealing directly with French authorities, who have promised to facilitate logistical work for us,” he said at a news conference. “This is a major tragedy for Lebanon and we will deal with it accordingly, but the area where the plane crashed is technically a war zone.”
“We are expecting difficult days ahead,” he added.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam contacted Bassil, who informed him that the ministry was still hoping for a speedy repatriation process. The prime minister also called the families of the victims, reportedly telling them that “all of Lebanon stands by you during this painful time.”
He went on to assure them that the government was doing everything in its power to return the remains as quickly as possible.
Lebanon has a large expatriate community across the world and many Lebanese have been the victims of plane crash accidents over the past decades.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk dispatched delegations to the plane crash victims’ families throughout the country to convey the government’s condolences and assure of its commitment to returning their loved ones’ remains.
Machnouk urged the director-general of Lebanon’s General Security, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, to facilitate the measures needed for the victim’s families to travel to Mali and retrieve the remains of their relatives.
Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah also offered his condolences during a live speech in Beirut’s southern suburbs Friday.
Lebanon is expected to announce a national day of mourning for the victims when the remains are repatriated.