Search continues for missing Air France flight

12:27, 02 June 2009
World
852 0

The jet was carrying 228 people

Brazilian and French rescue teams continued to search Tuesday for the passengers of an Air France jet that disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean as details of Flight 447 began to emerge, CNN reported.

The Airbus A330 encountered heavy turbulence about 02:15 a.m. local time Monday (10:15 p.m. ET Sunday), some three hours after the jet carrying 228 people left Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for Paris, France, on an 11-hour flight, according to Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon.

At that point, the plane`s automatic system initiated a four-minute exchange of messages to the company`s maintenance computers, indicating "several pieces of aircraft equipment were at fault or had broken down," he told reporters.

During that time, there was no contact with the crew, Gourgeon said.

"It was probable that it was a little bit after those messages that the impact of the plane took place in the Atlantic," he added.

The Airbus A330 was off radar and probably closer to Brazil than to Africa at the time, he said.

Two squadrons from Brazil`s air force launched a search near the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha in the Atlantic Ocean, about 225 miles (365 kilometers) from Brazil`s coast, an air force spokesman told CNN. And French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France sent ships and planes to the area about 250 miles (400 kilometers) from Brazil. 

"Our Spanish friends are helping us, Brazilians are helping us a lot as well," he said.

The Brazilian air force received a report that a flight crew from the Brazilian airline TAM reported seeing "shiny spots" in the sea on the route of Flight 447. Senegalese authorities were notified about the sighting in their airspace, but a ship searched the area without result. 

Among the passengers were 126 men, 82 women, seven children and a baby, in addition to the 12 crew members, Air France said.

An official list of passengers by name was not available late Monday, but the only two Americans on board -- Michael Harris, 60, and his wife, Anne, 54 -- were identified by the couple`s family and his employer.

"Anne and Mike were indeed a beautiful couple inside and out, and I miss them terribly already," said Anne Harris` sister, Mary Miley.

Michael Harris was a geologist in Rio de Janeiro for Devon Energy, the largest U.S.-based independent natural gas and oil producer, according to a company spokesman.

The couple had lived in the city since July 2008 and were traveling to Paris for a training seminar for Michael and for a vacation, Miley told CNN.

The airliner identified the nationalities of the other victims as: Argentinean (1); Austrian (1); Belgian (1); Brazilian (58); British (5); Canadian (1); Chinese (9); Croatian (1); Danish (1); Dutch (1); Estonian (1); Filipino (1); French (61); Gambian (1); German (26); Hungarian (4); Icelandic (1); Irish (3); Italian (9); Lebanese (5); Moroccan (2); Norwegian (3); Polish (2); Romanian (1); Russian (1); Slovakian (3); Spanish (2); Swedish (1); Swiss (6); Turkish (1).

The jet was 4 years old and had last undergone routine maintenance April 16. 

Its crew was composed of three pilots, including a captain who had logged 11,000 hours in flight, and nine cabin crew members, Gourgeon said. Some 1,700 of the captain`s hours were on two Airbus models. Of the two co-pilots, one had 3,000 hours of flying experience and the other 6,600 hours. The aircraft had flown 18,870 hours, he said.

Of the passengers, 149 had planned to connect to flights going elsewhere in Europe or as far away as China, Gourgeon said.

"This is a catastrophe the likes of which Air France has never seen before," Sarkozy told reporters at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, where he had met with relatives of the missing aboard the flight.

"I said the truth to them: The prospects of finding survivors are very low," he said. 

France asked the U.S. military to assist in the search with U.S. detection satellites, French Transport Minister Jean-Louis Borloo told CNN affiliate France 2. Pentagon officials did not immediately confirm the request.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told reporters in San Salvador, El Salvador, that he had spoken with Sarkozy, but neither leader knew what to say.

"All we could do was thank each other," Lula said. "He thanked me for the speed with which the Brazilian air force took charge."

He added, "In times like these, there is little to do but to deeply lament, to wish the families a lot of strength, because there are no words."

The jet, which was flying at 35,000 feet and at 521 mph, also sent a warning that it had lost pressure, the Brazilian air force said.

The jet took off from Rio de Janeiro`s Galeao International Airport at 11:30 p.m. Sunday. Its last known contact occurred at 02:33 a.m. Monday, the Brazilian air force spokesman said. It was not clear what that final contact was.

It was expected to check in with air traffic controllers at 03:20 a.m. but did not do so. Brazilian authorities asked the air force to launch a search mission just over three hours later.

CNN

If you see a spelling error on our site, select it and press Ctrl+Enter