A crashed military plane is pictured in Oum El Bouaghi province, about 500km from the capital Algiers. Picture: Stringer

Algiers -

Algeria began three days of mourning on Wednesday for the 77 victims of a military aircraft crash, many of whom were family members returning from a visit to troops stationed in the desert.

One passenger survived with serious injuries when the Hercules C-130 military transporter crashed about 50 kilometres from the northeastern city of Constantine, in the mountainous Oum El Bouaghia region.

The plane, which took off from the far-southern town of Tamanrasset, was preparing to begin its descent to Constantine airport when air traffic controllers lost contact with the pilot.

An investigation into the cause of the crash has been launched.

The defence ministry blamed “very unfavourable” weather conditions. North-east Algeria has recently had snow. Algerian state media initially put the number of dead at over 100, including four crew members, but the defence ministry later told the official APS news agency that 77 people had lost their lives.

Ennahar TV channel said the confusion arose because the aircraft was carrying 103 people when it left Tamanrasset but that some of the passengers disembarked during a stopover in the town of Ouargla, leaving only 78 people for the last leg to Constantine.

The accident was one of the worst in Algerian aviation history.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika sent his condolences to the victims' families on Tuesday evening and announced three days of mourning. - Sapa-dpa