Undated handout photo of the crash site of Air Algerie flight AH5017 near the northern Mali town of Gossi
Undated hand-out photo of the crash site of Air Algerie flight AH5017 near the northern Mali town of GossiReuters

The pilots of an Air Algerie plane that crashed in Mali on Thursday had asked permission to turn back before the crash, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said.

In what appears to be one of the most important details of the time leading up to the crash, Fabious told reporters on Monday that the crew of Air Algerie flight AH5017 had requested the plane be allowed to return to Burkina Faso. The decision was made after initially asking to change the airplane's scheduled course due to bad weather.

France has taken the leading role in the investigation. The jet that was flying to Algeria, crashed in Mali, killing all 118 people aboard including 54 of them French citizens.

The revelation comes as the plane's two flight data recorders arrived in France on Monday.

"What we know for sure is that the weather was bad that night, that the plane crew had asked to change route then to turn back before all contact was lost," Fabius said in a conference Monday.

The announcement came as a team of French investigators are currently at the site of the plane's wreckage in Mali, but they are facing "extremely difficult conditions", Fabius said.
Shifting through the pane's wreckage was "long, fastidious and extremely complex job," he added.

The site of crash, located about 80 km south of the Malian town of Gossi, near the Burkina Faso border have been secured by French, Malian and Dutch soldiers associated with a UN peace-keeping force.

French officials said on Monday that the flight data recorders had arrived in France and were being examined by investigators. While one of the devices was retrieved as soon as officials arrived at the crash site, the second one was found late Saturday, BBC reports.

The news channel reported citing agencies that one of the devices was badly damaged on the outside, although a spokeswoman for the French aviation investigation office was quoted as saying they could not say anything about the state in which the device was found.

"At this stage, we cannot say anymore," the spokeswoman, Martine del Bono told reporters.