June 1, 2009 - Air France plane missing hit thunderstorms over Atlantic status update
A missing Air France jet carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris ran into a towering wall of thunderstorms over the Atlantic Ocean, officials said Monday, fearing that all aboard were lost.
The area where the plane could have gone down was vast, in the middle of very deep Atlantic Ocean waters between Brazil and the coast of Africa. Brazil's military searched for it off its northeast coast, while the French military scoured the ocean near the Cape Verde Islands off the West African coast.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy told families of those aboard that "prospects of finding survivors were very small." If all 228 were killed, it would be the deadliest commercial airline disaster since 2001.
"(I met with) a mother who lost her son, a fiancee who lost her future husband. I told them the truth," he said.
Chief Air France spokesman Francois Brousse said "it is possible" the plane was hit by lightning, but aviation experts expressed doubt that a bolt of lightning was enough to bring the plane down.
Air France's manager in Rio de Janeiro, Jorge Assuncao, told reporters that the two biggest groups of nationalities aboard were Brazilian and French. Other passengers were American, Angolan, Argentine, Belgian, British, Chinese, Filipino, German, Irish, Italian, Moroccan, Norwegian, Spanish and Slovakian.
Air France Flight 447, a 4-year-old Airbus A330, left Rio on Sunday at 7:03 p.m. local time (2203 GMT, 6:03 p.m. EDT) with 216 passengers and 12 crew members on board, said company spokeswoman Brigitte Barrand.
The plane left Brazil radar contact, beyond the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, at 10:48 local time (0148 GMT, 9:48 p.m. EDT), indicating it was flying normally at 35,000 feet (10,670 meters) and traveling at 522 mph (840 kph).
About a half-hour later, the plane "crossed through a thunderous zone with strong turbulence." It sent an automatic message fourteen minutes later at 0214 GMT (10:14 p.m. EDT Sunday) reporting electrical failure and a loss of cabin pressure.
Air France told Brazilian authorities the last information they heard was that automated message reporting a technical problem before the plane reached a monitoring station near the Cape Verde islands.
Brazilian Air Force spokesman Col. Jorge Amaral said seven aircraft had been deployed to search the area far off the northeastern Brazilian coast.
"We want to try to reach the last point where the aircraft made contact, which is about 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) northeast of Natal," Amaral told Globo TV.
Meteorologists said tropical storms are much more violent than thunderstorms in the United States and elsewhere.
"Tropical thunderstorms ... can tower up to 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
The Airbus A330-200 is a twin-engine, long-haul, medium-capacity passenger jet that is 190 feet (58.8 meters) long. It is a shortened version of the standard A330, and can hold up to 253 passengers. There are 341 in use worldwide today. It can fly up to 7,760 miles (12,500 kilometers).
Rick Kennedy, a spokesman for GE Aviation, expressed doubt that the engine was at fault. He said the CF6-80E engine that powered the Air France plane "is the most popular and reliable engine that we have for big airplanes in the world." He said there are more than 15,000 airplanes flying in the world with that engine design.
The prospect of finding any survivors is very weak
|Liveleak on Facebook|