Investigation wraps up at Air Algeria crash site in Mali

Forensics specialists from France, Mali, Spain and Algeria have spent a week scouring the site

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The investigation at the site in northern Mali of the Air Algerie plane crash has been concluded along with the task of collecting the remains of the dead, French police said on Saturday.

Flight AH5017 from Burkina Faso to Algiers crashed in bad weather on July 24, killing all 116 people on board.

Forensics specialists from France, Mali, Spain and Algeria have spent a week scouring the site in the Gossi region, around 150 kilometres (95 miles) from the city of Gao in northeastern Mali.

“I have finished my investigations relating to accident investigation and identifying the victims,” said Colonel Patrick Touron, deputy head of the French gendarmerie’s Criminal Research Institute.

Forensic experts were forced to use DNA samples to identify the dead, mostly because of the state the bodies were found in. The extreme heat at the crash site further complicated their work.

“We scraped the sand and gathered everything so there is nothing belonging to a victim that could have been left behind,” Touron told AFP.

“We have carried out a zoning of the whole area with the help of military forces on the site to ensure that no personal objects belonging to a victim could have been left behind.”

During a brief ceremony, Touron officially turned over the crash site to the Malian military.

Up to 1,200 samples from human remains have been collected, according to investigators.

A first batch of 146 samples was sent on Friday from Bamako to Paris, where they will be analysed by Touron’s colleagues.

Watches, memory cards, jewellery and other personal effects of the victims have been transferred to a French military base in Gao, where French and Malian investigators are sifting through each item in an attempt to determine the owner.

French authorities originally gave the death toll in the crash as 118 but it emerged that two people thought to have been on the plane had not boarded.

A monument is to be erected in tribute to the victims, although it has not yet been decided whether it will be at the crash site, the nearby town of Gossi or Gao, which is the regional capital.

Algeria’s chief of police said on Thursday that identifying the victims “could take weeks, months and maybe years”.

President Francois Hollande has said the remains of all passengers on the plane -- not just the French -- would be flown to France.