The United Nations said Saturday that its experts had located the second black box from the Air Algerie flight that crashed Thursday in the West African country of Mali, killing all 118 people aboard.
Aviation experts, criminal investigators and soldiers began converging Friday on an isolated patch of restive Mali to search for clues that might explain why the jetliner fell from the sky in a storm, though initial signs pointed to bad weather as the likely culprit.
Initial evidence taken from the remote crash site indicates that the aircraft broke apart when it hit the ground, making an attack appear unlikely. The first of the plane’s two boxes was found Friday and sent to Gao, the northern Mali city where a contingent of French troops is based. The death toll of 118 includes 54 French citizens.
Before officials lost contact with the plane, the jet’s pilot advised controllers in Niger that he needed to change routes because of a storm, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said Thursday.
Although French aviation authorities said the catastrophe was probably the result of extreme bad weather, they refused to exclude other possibilities, including terrorism, pending a full investigation. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced Friday that France has opened a manslaughter investigation.
The loss of flight 5017 wiped out whole families. The passenger list also included other Europeans, Canadians and Africans. The six crew members were Spanish.
One man pleaded with French officials not to hold back any information about the crash that killed his brother and other family members.
"Tell us. Especially give us an explanation," Amadou Ouedraogo said on French news outlet BFM-TV.
On Saturday, some family members of those killed on the flight were taken to the wreckage to grieve as French President Francois Hollande announced three days of mourning.
Hollande, who met with relatives of victims for three hours on Saturday afternoon, said that all the bodies would be flown to France and that he would make sure that families can, at some point, travel to the crash site to help them cope with their grief.
"A headstone will be erected so that no one ever forgets that on this land, on this site, 118 people perished," Hollande said in a television address, his third on the air disaster in three days.
The jetliner was flying from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, to Algiers, Algeria, when it disappeared just 50 minutes after takeoff.
More than 200 French, Malian and Dutch troops from the United Nations force in Mali secured the site ahead of the arrival this weekend of aviation and criminal investigators.
Gao is in the heart of a still-restive desert and mountain area in northern Mali that fell under the control of Tuareg separatists, once linked to Al-Qaeda, after a 2012 military coup. French forces intervened in the west African country in January 2013 to rout Islamist militants controlling the region.
Col. Patrick Tourron of the French Gendarmerie's victim-identification unit told BFM-TV that fingerprints, DNA and teeth would provide the primary clues to each victim's identity. Surviving family members were to be asked for victims' toothbrushes and the names of their dentists, he said.
Video of the wreckage site taken by a soldier from Burkina Faso, the nation first on the scene, showed unrecognizable debris scattered over a desolate area dotted with scrubby vegetation. There were bits of twisted metal but no identifiable parts such as the fuselage or tail, or victims' bodies. An aerial view shown later on French television revealed similar devastation.