- Reports say 51 French nationals were on board plane
- Air Algeria say plane crashed near town of Tilemsi, 70km from Gao, northern Mali.
- French Foreign Minister refuses to confirm that crash site has been found.
- The plane's crew requested to change course to avoid bad weather, just before losing contact.
- An emergency phone number for information on the AH5017 flight has been set up. Number is + 33 1 43 17 56 46
18:21 - Here's the latest AFP article on the Air Algerie plane believed to have crashed in northern Mali.
An Air Algerie plane missing since early Thursday over Mali with 116 passengers and crew, including 51 French nationals, on board probably crashed, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
"Despite intensive searches, no trace of the plane has been found as we speak," he said in Paris.
"The plane has probably crashed. The searches are focusing at this stage on a vast strip of Malian territory around the region of Gao," in the north of the west African nation, he said.
Flight AH5017, which originated in Ouagadougou and was bound for Algiers, went missing in the early morning amid reports of heavy storms, company sources and officials said.
"Contact was lost with the McDonnell Douglas 83 at 01:47, a little after the pilots said they were diverting from the route due to meteorological reasons," Fabius said.
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was earlier cited as saying by Algerian radio that the plane dropped off the radar at Gao, 500 kilometres (300 miles) from the Algerian border.
The airline said it had 50 French, 24 from Burkino Faso, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, six Spanish, five Canadians, four Germans and two Luxembourg nationals on board.
Fabius said there were 51 French on board.
Aviation sources told AFP the MD-83 was leased from Spanish company Swiftair.
Its six-member crew were all Spanish, said Spain's airline pilots' union Sepla, and Swiftair confirmed the aircraft went missing less than an hour after takeoff.
Air Algerie said the passenger manifest also included one person each from Belgium, Cameroon, Egypt, Mali, Nigeria, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine as well as "three nationalities yet to be determined".
The plane had apparently been given the "all clear" following an inspection in France only this week, the civil aviation authority said.
In France, two emergency cells had been set up, at the country's civil aviation authority DGAC and at the foreign ministry, DGAC said, in addition to another two at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Paris and at Marseille airport.
DGAC said that many passengers had been due to catch onward connecting flights to Paris and Marseille.
Contact between air traffic control and the aircraft was lost over restive northern Mali as it flew towards the border with Algeria, a source within the airline told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In Mali, the prime minister's office also said contact was lost around Gao.
"The plane was not far from the Algerian frontier when the crew was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent the risk of collision with another aircraft on the Algiers-Bamako route," an airline source said.
"Contact was lost after the change of course."
A controller in Mali, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the area was rocked by "strong storms" overnight.
Northern Mali was seized by jihadist groups for several months in 2012 and the region has remained unstable despite the Islamists being driven out in a French-led offensive.
Despite international military intervention still under way, the situation there remains unstable.
On July 17, the Bamako government and armed groups from northern Mali began talks in Algiers aimed at securing an elusive peace deal.
Two French Mirage 2000 warplanes based in the Chadian capital N'Djamena were taking part in the search for the plane, the French military said.
Air Algerie, in a statement carried by national news agency APS, said it had initiated an "emergency plan" in the search for AH5017, which flies the four-hour passenger route four times a week.
"Air traffic control had their last contact with AH5017 on the Ouagadougou-Algiers route today, July 24, at 0155 GMT, 50 minutes after takeoff," an airline statement said.
18:15 - French authorities have opened up a preliminary investigation for manslaughter in relation to the "probable plane crash". This is fairly routine for these kind of incidents. The probe will be handled by the general commander of the gendarmerie for air transport.
18:09 - This tweet is from Tim Robinson, editor in chief of the Royal Aeronautical Society's Aerospace magazine puts things into perspective for those worried about flying.
18:05 - Here's some background from AFP on previous air disasters in Algeria, including one plane crash that left a sole survivor.
One of Algeria's worst air disasters occurred in February this year, when a C-130 military aircraft carrying 78 people crashed in poor weather in the mountainous northeast, killing more than 70 people.
The plane was flying from the desert garrison town of Tamanrasset in Algeria's deep south to Constantine, 320 kilometres (200 miles) east of Algiers.
Tamanrasset was the site of the country's worst ever civilian air disaster, in March 2003.
In that accident, all but one of 103 people on board were killed when an Air Algerie passenger plane crashed on takeoff after one of its engines caught fire.
The sole survivor, a young Algerian soldier, was critically injured.
In December 2012, two Algerian military jets on a routine training mission collided in mid-air near Tlemcen in the northwest, killing both pilots.
A month earlier, a twin-turboprop CASA C-295 military transport aircraft, which was carrying a cargo of paper for the printing of banknotes in Algeria, crashed in southern France.
The five soldiers and one central bank representative on board were all killed.
18:00 - Here's more from AFP about the state of the plane:
An Air Algerie jet leased from a Spanish firm that went missing Thursday was checked "two or three days ago" and was "in good condition", France's aviation watchdog said.
Patrick Gandil, head of the French civil aviation authority, said the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 "passed through France in Marseille two or three days ago. We examined it and we found almost nothing, it was really in good condition."
17:52 - Earlier reports claimed Mariela Castro, the niece of Cuban leader Raul Castro was on the plane, but these have since been confirmed as false. Mariela herself has tweeted out that she is "alive and well".
17:49 - Naturally there has been focus about the state of the plane that has apparently crashed in northern Mail. Some media reports have suggested it had a history of engine trouble. However France's aviation watchdog has told AFP that the plan was checked this week and "was in a good condition".
17:29 - Many reports now claim the wreckage of the plane has been located and efforts are being made to secure the area around the crash site. President François Hollande has sent his minister Fleur Pellerin to the region and he wil hold an emergency cabinet meeting shortly.
Latest report say 15 passengers on the plane were due to flyon to Paris, 14 to Lyon and seven to Marseille.
17:08 - The Air Algérie crash is the third in a week and many people have expressed their shock on Twitter.
Another plane missing? Are you kidding me? #AH5017— Cassidy Clark (@cassidyaclark) July 24, 2014
17:04 - Although France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius refused to confirm that the plane had crashed, there are other reports that are saying wreckage of the plane has been spotted by French fighter jets.
"Despite intensive searches, no trace of the plane has been found as we speak," he said.
"The plane has probably crashed. The searches are focussing at this stage on a vast strip of Malian territory around the region of Gao," in the north of the west African nation, he said.
Fabius said if the crash is confimred it would be "a major tragedy that will touch the whole country".
16:47 - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says on TV that the crash site of plane has not been located. Previously Air Algérie said it said the aircraft had come down 70km from the city of Gao, northern Mali.
16:45 - Minister of Transport in Burkina Faso says pilot of plane asked to change course because of storms shortly before it lost contact with air traffic control.
16:30: Air Algérie confirm plane came down near town of Tilemsi, 70km from Gao, northern Mali.
FLASH INFOS : AH5017 L'avion se serait crashé à Tilemsi. L'avion se serait crashé dans la région de Tilemsi, à 70km de Gao.— Air Algérie (@Air_Algerie) July 24, 2014
16:28: La Chaine Météo weather website in France says the planes flight path took it across an area where there heavy storms with gusting wind and lightning.
16:18 - A statement from the Elysée Palace says President François Hollande will hold an emergency meeting with his PM Manuel Valls, Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve at 5pm Paris time.
16:09 - French President François Hollande has delayed his trip to Réunion by two hours at least, until he has more information on the fate ofthe Air Algérie plane.
16:07: - Reports in the French press claim the plane came down near the town of Tilemsi, in the Gao region of northern Mali. Those reports cited local Algerian and Malian sources.
16:00: The French Foreign Ministry has called a press conference at 4pm to issue its first comments on the crash.
15:50: It may be a while yet before the wreckage of the plane, which aviation officials in Algeria say has crashed, is located. It reportedly went missing over northern Mali, a remote part of West Africa. Two French fighter jets have been dispatched to search for the aircraft.
15:45: In other airline news on Thursday the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on Thursday lifted its recommendation for airlines to stop flights to Tel Aviv due to the conflict in Israel and Gaza.
It said it had revised its decision adopted "on the basis of information provided by the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel and following coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration".
15:38: This is the latest information on the nationalities of the passengers aboard the plane. This was published by Le Parisien, whose source was an official with Air Algérie.
On board there were 6 Algerians, 51 French, 24 from Burkina Faso, 1 Malian, 1 Belgian, 2 from Luxembourg, 5 Canadians, 1 Cameroonian, 4 Germans, 1 Nigerian, 8 Lebanese, 1 Egyptien, 1 Ukrainian, 1 Swiss, and 6or 7 members of the Spanish crew.
15:30 - Some families of some of the victims have arrived at Marseille airport, where some of the passengers on the missing flight were reportedly due to fly on to. It's also believed many of the Frnech nationals were due to fly on to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport where an emergency crisis unit has been set up.
15:28 - This is the map of the probable crash site released by authorities in Burkina Faso:
15:21 - Missing Air Algérie plane had 51 French, 26 from Burkina Faso among the 116 passengers, accoring to the latest reports
15:15 - France has sent two fighter jets to the region to search for the missing plane and set up crisis centres in Paris and Marseille.
BACKGROUND: The Air Algérie flight AH5017 bound for the Algerian capital Algiers disappeared from air controllers’ radar screens over 12 hours ago and there has been no contact with the crew since, the airline said.
Reuters reports the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 that belongs to Spanish airline Swiftair has crashed, though it's unclear where. At least 50 French nationals were on the plane, an Air Algerie representative told reporters at a press conference in Burkina Faso.
France's junior transport minister Frederic Cuvillier wouldn't provide a number, but told the media it was "likely" there was a "number of" French passengers aboard the plane.
Unconfirmed reports from Spanish TV news stations and Algerian journalists put the number at 80 or more.
The flight from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers took off at 1:05am GMT and disappeared 50 minutes later, over northern Mali as it approached the Algerian border.
Chinese State television CCTV has reported that the plane crashed near Niamey, the capital of Niger.
France has sent two Mirage 2000 jets to look for the plane that went missing less than an hour after take-off from Ouagadougou. France's civil aviation body said crisis cells had been set up at the airports of Paris and Marseille.
It dropped from sight shortly after 1.38am GMT, when the pilot asked to be allowed to change his route due to a storm in the area, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouédraogo told reporters.
Top civil aviation officials are holding an emergency meeting and a crisis hotline (+ 33 1 43 17 56 46) has been set up, he said after a government meeting.
An airline source said: "The plane was not far from the border with Algeria when we asked the pilots to reroute because of poor visibility and to avoid the risk that they would collide with another plane travelling between Algiers and Bamako."
"The signal was lost after the change of course," the source said.
Satellite image showing storms over Air Algerie route last night: pic.twitter.com/Kkf0R5UiF2— Alistair Bunkall (@AliBunkallSKY) July 24, 2014
It's unclear yet what could have happened to the plane, but if it indeed has crashed, the fact that it was forced down remains a possibility, an aviation security expert told French daily Le Figaro.
“There’s a serious risk that we are facing a scenario similar to MH17,” the unnamed expert said, referring the Malaysia Airlines flight shot down over Ukraine last week. “If it’s a mid-air collision another aircraft would also be missing and a plane rarely disappears suddenly without warning."
Despite international military intervention still under way, the situation remains unstable in northern Mali, which was seized by jihadist groups for several months in 2012.
On July 17, the Bamako government and armed groups from northern Mali launched tough talks in Algiers aimed at securing an elusive peace deal, and with parts of the country still mired in conflict.