France has "from the start" ruled out that an Air Algerie plane that crashed in Mali was shot down from the ground, transport minister Frederic Cuvillier said on Friday.
"We have excluded from the start the possibility of a strike from the ground," he said on French
television, rejecting speculation that the jet with 116 people on board, including 51 French nationals, could have been shot down by rebels in Mali's restive north.
He added it was extremely unlikely, and even "out of the question", that any of the people on board the plane had survived.
"Given the state of the plane (wreck), it is very unlikely, even out of the question, that there are any survivors," Cuvillier said, adding that French military forces were heading to the site where the jet crashed.
Meanwhile, French officials said on Friday that poor weather was the most likely cause of the crash of the flight over the West African state of Mali.
The MD-83 airplane that crashed was leased from Spanish company Swiftair. (Reuters file photo)
Investigators at the scene of the crash had concluded the airliner broke apart when it hit the ground, the officials said, suggesting this meant it was unlikely to have been the victim of an attack.
Read: Disasters wreak havoc on airline industry this week
"The aircraft was destroyed at the moment it crashed," interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio of the wreckage of the plane carrying 51 French nationals which crashed in Mali near the border with Burkina Faso on Thursday.
"We think the aircraft crashed for reasons linked to the weather conditions. No theory can be excluded at this point ... but that is indeed the most likely theory," he added.
Separately, transport minister Cuvillier said the strong smell of aircraft fuel at the crash site and the fact that the debris was scattered over a relatively small area also suggested the cause of the crash was linked to weather, a technical problem or a cumulation of such factors.
"We exclude - and have done so from the start - any ground strike," Cuvillier told France 2 television.
Read: 'Most probable' cause of Air Algerie Flight AH5017 crash is weather
He added that a column of 100 soldiers from the French force stationed in the region were on their way to secure the crash site near the northern town of Gossi. France deployed troops to Mail last year to halt an al Qaeda-backed insurgency.
Aviation officials lost contact with Flight AH5017 en route from Burkina Faso to Algeria early on Thursday after a request by the pilot to change course due to bad weather.
Burkina Faso authorities said the passenger list included 51 French, 27 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two from Luxembourg, one Cameroonian, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukranian, one Swiss, one Nigerian and one Malian. Crash site investigators saw no survivors.
(With AFP, Reuters inputs)
Watch: Crashed Air Algerie plane found in Mali
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