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Last Updated:  Friday, 7 March, 2003, 16:21 GMT
'Technical fault' caused Algeria crash
Relative of a victim is helped by Algiers airport officials
Most of the victims have been identified
A plane accident which left up to 102 people dead in southern Algeria on Thursday was caused by a technical problem, the authorities say.

The Air Algerie aircraft crashed as it took off in the remote city of Tamanrasset in the Sahara Desert, apparently after its right-hand engine caught fire.

An airline official said the sole survivor of the crash - a soldier identified as Youcef Djillali - had emerged from a coma and was considered "out of danger".

Most of the victims have been identified, officials said, but there is some confusion over how many people were on the flight as some passengers are reported not to have boarded.

The Boeing 737 was heading for the capital, Algiers, about 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) away.

'New plane'

It is the worst major incident for the national airline since Algeria won independence from France in 1962.

As relatives of the victims gathered at Algiers airport, the government set up a crisis committee to investigate the crash.

Terrorism was not suspected, airline spokesman Hamid Hamdi said.

A technician told Algerian radio that the plane was one of three new Boeings recently acquired by Air Algerie.

Tamanrasset's public health director Farouh Zahi said nearly about 90% of the victims had been identified.

Forensic experts are working to identify the remaining bodies.

Initial reports said seven French citizens were among the dead. But the French news agency AFP reported that one of them had not embarked.

State radio reported that three others - a Frenchman, a Tunisian and an Algerian - had not embarked on the flight because a last-minute technical problem had prevented their boarding passes from being issued.

Ancient site

Tamanrasset lies at the base of the Hoggar Mountains in the Sahara Desert.

The area, known for its ancient archaeological sites and prehistoric paintings and engravings, attracts some tourism, despite the Islamic insurgency that has convulsed Algeria since 1992.

It has long been a major centre of trade in the region and for the Tuareg nomad tribes, known for their blue robes.

The BBC's Gillian Ni Cheallaigh
"The airline was quick to eliminate terrorism"

Country profile: Algeria
03 Mar 03 |  Country profiles

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