BEIRUT: An official Lebanese delegation investigating the Air Algerie crash left for Mali Sunday morning to follow up on investigations and repatriate the remains of the Lebanese nationals aboard the flight.
The delegation includes the director-general of immigrants, Haitham Jomaa; the secretary-general of the Higher Relief Commission, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair; and pathologist Dr. Fouad Ayoub, alongside two officers from General Security and the Lebanese Army.
The Lebanese delegation will oversee the transfer of the victims' bodies from the crash site to field testers in Gao and Bamako, who will cross-match the retrieved samples with DNA strains collected from relatives in Beirut.
According to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry, the bodies will first be transferred to the city of Gao, 120 km from the crash site, before being moved to Bamako. After initial tests and procedure, the bodies will then be handed over to delegations from their home countries.
Malian authorities will oversee the transportation process in collaboration with a French delegation, while a special team of French experts will oversee DNA indentification.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said recovery of the victims’ bodies would take several days. Air Algerie is providing transportation for each country’s delegation to inspect the crash site.
Bassil also contacted several foreign officials including French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, to convey condolences over French casualties resulting from the flight. Fabius vowed full French assistance to the Lebanese delegation to facilitate the repatriation of remains.
The minister also contacted Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra, with the two discussing the circumstances of the incident as well as technical issues that led to the crash. Lamamra assured Bassil that Air Algerie would assume full responsibility for the consequences of this tragedy.
Bassil also has contacted the families and relatives of the victims, conveying condolences and wishing them patience and fortitude throughout the difficult period.
According to the statement, the Lebanese delegation will visit Burkina Faso to offer condolences and sympathy to the relatives and families of the victims living in the West African country.
The second black box from the Air Algerie plane disaster was recovered Saturday at the remote crash site in northern Mali as investigators headed to the scene to determine the cause of the tragedy.
Officials who had already reached Mali's remote, barren Gossi area described a scene of devastation littered with twisted and burnt fragments of the plane.
No one survived the impact and entire families were wiped out. France bore the brunt of the disaster as 54 of its nationals were killed in the crash of the McDonnell Douglas 83, which had taken off from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso bound for Algiers.
Travelers from Burkina Faso, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg also died in the crash, increasingly being blamed on bad weather that forced the pilots to change course.
French President Francois Hollande said flags would fly at half-mast from government buildings for three days from Monday to mourn the victims, and all bodies would be repatriated to France as soon as was possible.
"A memorial will be put up so that no one forgets that 118 people perished in this area," he told reporters.
But the identification of bodies could be an arduous task given the violent impact of the crash.
"It is difficult to retrieve anything, even victims' bodies, because we have only seen body parts on the ground," said General Gilbert Diendiere, chief of the military staff of Burkina Faso's presidency.
A member of a delegation sent to the crash site by President Blaise Compaore, Diendiere added that "debris was scattered over an area of 500 meters which is due to the fact that the plane hit the ground and then probably rebounded."
Compaore met Saturday with relatives of some crash victims in Ouagadougou and announced that Burkina Faso had opened an official inquiry into the cause of the disaster.
The Burkinade prosecutor "will work in close cooperation with his counterparts from Mali and France," he said.
Experts from France's Bureau of Investigations and Analyses agency that investigates air accidents were due to fly to the scene by helicopter in the afternoon, spokeswoman Martine Del Bono said. - with AFP