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France

Military planes search Atlantic for Airbus crash survivors

Video by FRANCE 24 , Oliver FARRY , FRANCE 2

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-02

French and Brazilian military planes are scouring areas of the Atlantic ocean where an Air France plane may have gone down. Airline sources say there is little chance that anyone would have survived. The Airbus A330 was carrying 228 people.

Reuters - An Air France plane was believed to have crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on Monday after hitting stormy weather en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, likely killing all 228 people on board.

France and Brazil sent military planes and ships to scour a vast area of ocean where the Airbus jet may have come down, but the airline and officials said there was little chance that anyone could have survived.

"It's a tragic accident. The chances of finding survivors are tiny," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport after meeting passengers' relatives.

If no survivors are found it would be the worst loss of life involving an Air France plane in the carrier's 75-year history. An Airbus A330 has never been lost during a commercial airline flight, and it is extremely unusual for an airliner to be brought down by storms.

The plane was carrying 216 passengers of 32 nationalities, including seven children and one baby, Air France said. Sixty-one were French citizens, 58 Brazilian and 26 German. Twelve crew members were also on board.

The jet flew into storms and heavy turbulence four hours after take-off from Rio and 15 minutes later sent an automatic message reporting electrical faults, the airline said.

There was no sign that the crew had sent a mayday message or any indication that signal-emitting emergency locaters had activated on impact as is normally the case in crashes.

 

The company said a lightning strike could be to blame and that several of the mechanisms on the Airbus 330-200, which has a good safety record, had malfunctioned.

"It's too early to tell what went on and what caused this tragedy," Isabelle Birem, Air France's general director in Brazil, said at a news conference in Sao Paulo.

"We need to study the technical results from the black box," she added, referring to the cockpit recorder.

Sources with access to flight data sent to the World Meteorological Organization said two Lufthansa jets passed through the same area of turbulence on Monday without incident. Aviation experts said lightning strikes on planes were common and could not alone explain a disaster.

They said the plane could have suffered an electrical failure, effectively leaving the pilots "blind" and making the plane more vulnerable in an area notorious for harsh weather.

Senior French minister Jean-Louis Borloo ruled out a hijacking.

Tearful relatives were led away by airport staff in Paris to a private area where psychologists assisted them. In Rio, relatives rushed to the international airport early in the morning seeking information about the flight.



Vazti Ester Van Sluijs, 70, said that at the last minute she had changed plans to see her 40-year-old daughter Adriana at the airport, where the plane's number was displayed for hours as simply "delayed."

"Just before boarding, she called me asking where I was. I only had time to tell her that she was the best daughter in the world," she said, adding she still had hope for her survival.

One of the Brazilians on board was Pedro Luis de Orleans e Braganca, a direct descendant of Dom Pedro II, the last emperor of Brazil, a spokesman for the royal family told Reuters.

Executives from French tire company Michelin and from the Brazil unit of German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp were also among the passengers, the companies said.

International search effort

Brazil's air force, which last had contact with the plane at 0133 GMT when it was 565 km (350 miles) from Brazil's coast, sent five planes to look for it and the Brazilian navy sent three ships to help in the search.

The navy said the ships would not arrive at the last known position of the aircraft, 800 km (500 miles) northeast of Natal state, until Tuesday night.

"Given that the plane could have been destroyed ... it could be very difficult to find the black box," said Douglas Ferreira Machado, former head of Brazil's Civil Aeronautics Agency.

France sent one of its air force planes from west Africa and several ships. Sarkozy said Spain was helping in the mission and Paris had asked the United States to assist in locating the crash site using U.S. satellite data.

"It seems the zone has been identified down to within 10 nautical miles," Borloo said on France 2 state television.

Air France said the plane, which was powered with General Electric engines, had 18,870 flight hours on the clock and went into service in April 2005. It last underwent maintenance in a hangar in April this year. The pilots were also very experienced, the airline said.

The last incident with major loss of life involving an Air France plane was in July 2000 when one of its Concorde supersonic airliners crashed just after taking off from Paris, bound for New York. At least 113 people died in the disaster.
 

Date created : 2009-06-02

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