Nigerians are mourning 117 people reported dead in Saturday's crash of a Boeing 737 airliner on a flight from the main city Lagos bound for the capital Abuja.

Flags flew at half-staff throughout Nigeria to begin a three-day period of mourning while investigators searched the 20-meter crater the downed plane caused near a village outside of Lagos.

Dismembered body parts and small pieces of the plane still lay in a field.

Among the reported dead were a top Malian official from the West African grouping ECOWAS, an American citizen, a prominent South African journalist, the crew from Bellview Airlines, the co-pilot's wife, as well as many other Nigerians.

Police at the site said they had found the black box, but this was later contradicted by the Aviation Minister Babalola Borishade, who said it was still buried in very hot mud that was difficult to access. He has asked for the help of outside aviation investigators as well as forensic experts.

Federal government officials said it appeared to have been an accident possibly caused by an electrical storm, but they did not rule out foul play.

An aviation expert, Edwin Nwachuku, who met with officials at the Lagos airport, says it is too early to tell.  "The Nigeria civil aviation authority here has given us some clues that there were some possibilities however those possibilities cannot be confirmed as true," he explained. "So it would be unfair for anybody to comment so far on the conclusions of what happened."

Mr. Nwachuku said people were in shock this happened to the private airline Bellview, which had a good reputation throughout West Africa. "I am at the airport and a lot of people are also expressing concern and sympathy for what has befallen the airline. In Nigeria, in the aviation sector, the airline is seen as one of the airlines that are on time, keeps to time, and you do not joke with it," he added. "So for this to have suffered this incident, definitely, the management will be devastated."

Meanwhile, the AIT private television, which first showed footage of the crash site, was suspended from Nigerian airwaves indefinitely. The government said it breached ethical standards by showing grisly video of dismembered bodies, as well as reporting no one had survived, before this was confirmed.

Earlier statements from government officials actually misidentified the location of the crash and incorrectly reported many people had survived.

Africa accounts for less than four percent of airline traffic, but about a quarter of the world's fatal crashes.