Mariela Castro, Raul Castro Niece, Reportedly on Missing Air Algerie Plane (+Photos)
Mariela Castro, a niece of Fidel Castro, was reportedly on board missing Air Algerie Flight AH5017.
The jetliner vanished from the radar in a remote desert area of Mali, officials said.
Castro is the daughter of Raul Castro and director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education.
The airport in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso–from which the plane took off–said that Mariela Castro was among the 110 passengers on board.
“”Among the passengers of VOL AH5017, there were two EU civil servants of French nationality based in Ouagadougou and Mariela Castro, the niece of Fidel Castro, the former Cuban leader,” it said.
However, NBC reporter Mary Murray said that she saw Castro on Thursday morning and that Mariela was not on the plane.
Venezuelan television network Telesur also reported that it spoke with Mariela, who is “alive and kicking, happy and healthy.”
The Ougadougouairport said that two French planes sent to look for wreckage located it in an inaccessible desert area, although France’s foreign minister said no wreckage had been found, but that the plane “probably crashed.”
Spanish airline Swiftair said in a statement that there were 50 French nationals on board, as well as nationals from Canada, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Romania, among other countries.
The plane sent its last message around 0130 GMT (9:30 p.m. EDT), asking Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rains in the area, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said.
French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said the Air Algerie flight vanished over northern Mali. He spoke Thursday from a crisis center set up in the French Foreign Ministry. Cuvillier didn’t specify exactly where the plane disappeared over Mali, or whether it was in an area controlled by rebels.
But Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said on Algerian state television said that 10 minutes before disappearing, it was in contact with air traffic controllers in Gao, a city essentially under the control of the Malian government, though it has seen lingering separatist violence.
This photo taken on Friday, May 16, 2014 shows an MD-83 aircraft in the livery of Swiftair landing at Zaventem Airport Brussels. An Air Algerie flight carrying over 100 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria’s capital disappeared from radar early Thursday over northern Mali after heavy rains were reported, according to the plane’s owner and government officials in France and Burkina Faso. (AP Photo/Kevin Cleynhens)
A television camera operator mounts a satellite dish on top of a van outside the Swiftair offices in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, July 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul White)
Passersby walk past the Air Algerie company office, on the Opera Avenue in Paris Thursday July 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
The plane had been missing for hours before the news was made public. It wasn’t immediately clear why airline or government officials didn’t make it public earlier.
The flight path of the plane from Ouagadougou to Algiers wasn’t immediately clear. Ouagadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali where unrest continues in the north.
Northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention last year scattered the extremists, but the Tuaregs have pushed back against the authority of the Bamako-based government.
A senior French official said it seems unlikely that fighters in Mali had the kind of weaponry that could shoot down a plane.
The official, not authorized to speak publicly, said on condition of anonymity that they primarily have shoulder-fired weapons – not enough to hit a passenger plane flying at cruising altitude.
Swiftair, a private Spanish airline, said the plane left Burkina Faso for Algiers at 0117 GMT Thursday (9:17 p.m. EDT Wednesday), but had not arrived at the scheduled time of 0510 GMT (1:10 a.m. EDT Thursday).
The Associated Press contributed to this report.