Missing Air France plane may have been hit by lightning, says airline

An Air France passenger jet bound from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, with 228 people on board - including 12 crew members and eight children - has gone missing over the Atlantic. A massive search operation is currently underway.


An Air France plane bound from Brazil to Paris disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean Monday sparking a massive search operation amid mounting fears over the fates of the 228 people on board.

According to Air France CEO, Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, the plane, an Airbus 330-200, sent out an automatic message signalling a fault in the aircraft about 15 minutes after hitting heavy turbulence. Airline officials said the aircraft may have been struck by lightning.

Flight AF 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris left Rio’s Galeao airport at 7pm Sunday night local time (GMT-3) and was expected at the Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport Monday at 11:15am Paris time (GMT+2). The passenger jet was “well advanced” over the Atlantic Ocean before it went missing, according to Brazilian Air Force officials.

The flight had 216 passengers and 12 crew members on board, according to Air France officials.

Reporting from CDG airport, FRANCE 24’s Claire Pryde said eight children, including an infant, were on board the aircraft. Tearful relatives of passengers who had arrived at the airport were led to a specially set up crisis centre, said Pryde.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Jean-Louis Borloo, the French minister responsible for transportation, said there were mainly Brazilian nationals and at least 40 French and 30 German citizens on board Flight AF 447. According to Pryde, the passenger list also included Italian, Libyan and Moroccan nationals.

Hours after the news broke, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and several senior French officials arrived at the airport and visited the special crisis centre for relatives of the people on board the missing flight.

‘We are probably facing an air catastrophe’

The last radio contact between the air crew and Brazilian traffic control was at around 3.30am Paris time, according to Air France officials. By 7am, airline officials concluded there was a problem, but calculated that the pilot still had fuel to stay in air. But as the hours ticked by, hopes were running low.

“We are probably facing an air catastrophe," a visibly moved Gourgeon told reporters at the CDG airport at 2pm Paris time.

Pryde, who was at the press conference, said Gourgeon opened the conference by declaring that he felt for the families in mourning. “Obviously, the fact that he used the word ‘mourning’ indicates that Air France are saying the worst case scenario has happened,” said Pryde.

Brazilian air force launches search operation

The Brazilian Air Force has launched a search operation for the missing Flight AF 447.

Speaking to Reuters, a Brazilian Air Force spokesman said search planes had taken off from the island of Fernando de Noronha off Brazil's north-east coast to look for the missing plane. The Brazilian navy announced that it had sent three ships to help in the search operation.

From Senegal, Jean-Christophe Rufin, France's ambassador to Senegal, told a French TV station that aircraft had also set off from the West African nation to aid in the search.

France’s airports authority has set up two crisis lines for the loved ones of people on board AF 447. The domestic line for calls from France is 0.800.800.812. The international line for calls outside France is +

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