An Air France passenger jet with more than 200 people on board has gone
missing and is feared to have crashed off the coast of Brazil, after
flying into strong tropical turbulence and probable lightning.
Authorities say Brazilian Air Force flight controllers last held
contact with Flight 447 bound for Paris as it was leaving Brazilian
airspace early Monday, 350 kilometers northeast of the coastal city of
Natal (near the island of Fernando de Noronha).
In Paris, Air France said evidence, including an automated alert, shows
the plane with 228 people on board then encountered storms and
experienced a catastrophic systems failure before it was to have
entered Senegalese airspace 50 minutes later.
Atlantic search and rescue operations are currently under way, with
elements of the Brazilian and French military searching a vast area of
the Atlantic described as three times larger than Europe.
Authorities are warning it may take a long time to complete the search.
Air France official Pierre Henri Gourgeon told CNN there was no voice
contact with the pilots, as the airliner sent automated distress
signals after encountering turbulence. He said such warnings without
voice confirmation suggest the plane was in "a dire situation" when the
message was transmitted.
Portuguese air control authorities told the Associated Press the
missing plane did not make contact with controllers in Portugal's
Azores Islands. Officials also said they do not believe the aircraft
contacted controllers in Cape Verde, Casablanca or the Canary islands.
Air France says 60 French citizens were on the plane, while Italy said at least three passengers were Italian.
First reports of the missing plane came from Paris about an hour after
the airliner was due to land at Charles de Gaulle airport (at 0915 UTC). Authorities have ruled out an attack or hijacking.