- AF 447 crash - aviation - Brazil - France
A second morning dawned Tuesday with no sign of missing Air France flight 447.
Air France officials and President Nicolas Sarkozy have called the chances of finding survivors “very slim” when meeting disconsolate relatives of the missing passengers. The plane, carrying 228 people on board has probably crashed into the Atlantic Ocean somewhere between Brazil and West Africa.
In response to a French request for aid, US President Barack Obama has agreed to help the search for the flight in any way possible.
Flight AF 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 216 passengers and 12 crew disappeared off radar screens in the early hours of Monday, four hours into its scheduled 11-hour flight.
A daytime search by Brazilian air force planes turned up nothing. The search continued into the night with a specially equipped aircraft. A Hercules C130 hunted over the dark waters for the missing Airbus’s emergency beacon, and an Embraer AWACS jet with infrared gear searched for bodies on the water.
"We will search all night long and keep going through dawn," said Colonel Jorge Amaral of the Brazilian air force. "We have to work as if it were possible to find survivors."
France has also sent two maritime reconnaissance planes from Senegal, and the ship "Mistral" has been routed to the area.
They are searching in a zone 1,100 kilometres off the north-eastern coast of Brazil. The flight was last in contact with the Brazilian air force when 565 kilometres from the coast.
A possible lead came from the pilot of a plane with Brazilian airlines Tam, who reported seeing “bright spots” on the surface of the ocean while flying through the same zone, half an hour behind the ill-fated Air France flight.
But a merchant ship in the area found no sign of burning or other debris from the missing flight.
If no survivors are found, this would be the worst disaster in the airline’s 76-year history and the worst aviation accident in a decade.
"It's a catastrophe the likes of which Air France has never seen," said Sarkozy.
The cause of the disaster is perplexing. "There’s a lack of information," said France 24’s Claire Pryde from Charles de Gaulle airport. She said that Air France staff were not satisfied with the explanations so far given.
Air France officials have linked it to the possibility of a lightning strike during stormy and turbulent weather, but that is relatively common phenomenon on aircraft and usually causes no damage. Two Lufthansa flights subsequently passing along a similar flight path did not experience any difficulties.
Air France's chief executive, Pierre-Henry Gourgeon, said the aircraft had sent a series of error messages shortly after crossing an area of major turbulence.
Gourgeon said that "a succession of a dozen technical messages" sent by the aircraft around 0215 GMT showed that "several electrical systems had broken down", which caused a "totally unprecedented situation in the plane".
"It is probable that it was shortly after these messages that the impact in the Atlantic came," he told reporters at Charles de Gaulle airport.