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Air France flight 447 carrying 228 passengers and crew vanished over the Atlantic Ocean after reporting a short circuit caused by a possible lightning strike, the BBC reports.
The plane was traveling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. At about 10:14 p.m. EST, just four hours after taking off from Rio, the plane sent an automatic message reporting electrical problems as it flew through a storm. When the plane lost contact it was nearly 190 miles off the coast of the north-east Brazilian city of Natal, well over the Atlantic.
Since the plane went missing over the ocean, rescue forces must search an encompassing chunk of sea, making the task much more difficult.
Brazil’s Air Force confirmed that it had deployed planes to search for the missing Airbus 330-200 around 6:17 a.m. EST. The Air Force’s spokesman, Col. Henry Munhoz, told Brazilian TV the last radar contact with the flight was just after it passed over the Fernando de Noronha islands, about 220 miles off the coast of Brazil, around 9:33 p.m. EST.
A half hour later, according to Air France, the plane jetted through a “thunderous zone” and experienced strong turbulence. Fifteen minutes later, at 10:14 p.m. EST, the plane sent out an automated message reporting electrical circuit malfunction.
Five hours passed before the situation was deemed serious by Air France, just two hours before the flight was scheduled to land in Paris. A crisis center was set up at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport and at 5:35 a.m. EST, the plane was announced missing by Air France officials.
The search began shortly after, off the coast of the Fernando de Noronha islands, and it is now being speculated that the electrical failure was caused by a possible lightning strike.
French Ecology minister Jean-Louis Borloo ruled out hijacking as a possibility. He also said that if the plane had survived the lightning strike and electrical failures to stay in flight, the Airbus would have, by now, run out of fuel somewhere over the Atlantic.
A lightning strike should not, technically speaking, be able to cause the crash of a modern Airbus.
“We must now envisage the most tragic scenario,” he said.
ONGOING UPDATES: Air France has set up a call center for those who need it: 0800 800 812 in France and +33 157021055 internationally.
France’s ambassador to Senegal told CNN that French military aircraft has been deployed to search the coast of the west African nation.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, according to a statement from his office, asked his government to “implement every effort to find the plane.”
Airbus 330-200’s are commonly requested because of their versatility. The planes boast advanced engines made by General Electric.
According to the Times Online, no commercial flight has been lost because of lightning in more than 40 years. The Times believes that “brutal freak turbulence,” not lightning, was the most probable cause of the flight’s problems.
According to a recent U.S. study, every commercial airliner is struck by lightning at least once a year, the Times reports.
There were 126 men, 82 women and seven children, including one baby, on board the flight. According to ABC, hope is now fading for the successful rescue of any of the passengers or crew.
AP conducted an interview with aviation expert Chris Yates who believes”potentially [the plane] went down very quickly and so quickly that the pilots on board didn’t have a chance to make that emergency call.”
He also said that the likely conclusion to be drawn in this situation is “that something catastrophic happened on board that has caused this airplane to ditch in a controlled or an uncontrolled fashion.”
According to USA Today, an Air France spokesman has confirmed to Voice of America that the plane hit heavy turbulence and transmitted a number of automatic messages before vanishing. He added, “around 7:00 [a.m.] Paris time, it was clear that the plane was in deep trouble.”
The CBC acknowledges conflicting information regarding the presumed location of the missing plane. They report that while Brazil’s forces believe it to be near the Fernando de Norenha islands about 220 miles off the coast of Brazil, other reports suggest that the plane may have been deeper into its flight path. French rescue aircrafts are looking for the lost plane off the coast of Dakar, Senegal.
David Learmount, safety editor of “Flight International” told Bloomberg he suspects contributing events took place on the airliner before it vanished.
“Modern airliners do not just go missing. They were en route and should have been fine,” he said. “The question is, what happened after the electrical fault, because a short circuit in itself should not bring down a plane. That would be different if there was a fire, for example.”
The following revised list of numbers and countries was released by Air France and includes all passengers and crew on board: 71 France, 59 Brazil, 26 Germany, nine Italy, nine China, six Switzerland, five Britain, five Lebanon, four Hungary, three Norway, three Slovakia, three Sweden, two Spain, two Morocco, two U.S., two Poland, and single passengers from Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Gambia, Iceland, Holland, Philippines, Romania, Russia, South Africa and Turkey.
As time progresses, chances of recovery or survival are fading. “We can fear the worst,” said France’s transportation minister, Dominique Bussereau.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also coming to terms with the tragedy. He met with press at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport after talking to familes of the lost passengers.
“I told them the truth, which is that the prospects of finding any survivors are very slim,” he said.
Various sources are confirming that the chances of there being any survivors of Air France flight 447 are slim at best. The last time 200+ people were killed in a plane crash was on November 12, 2001, when an American Airlines jet crashed in Queens, New York, killing all 260 on board and five on the ground.
Strangely, if you type “Air France 447” into Google, it says the flight is on schedule to arrive at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport at 11:15 a.m.
EVENING: BBC reports that rescue teams have narrowed their search area to a few nautical miles. At this time, nearly 24 hours after the plane’s disappearance, there is a very, very slim chance of any survivors.
The accident apparently took place in a turbulent area known as the Intertropical Convergence zone near the equator. The zone is actually feared by sailors and aviators, and is commonly known as the “pot au noir” or “murky cauldron.”
BBC spoke with meteorologist Pierre Lasnais who said the area “is prone to storms and lightning, but also to mini-cyclonic phenomena, which create extremely strong up currents, as well as hail stones that can be bigger than tennis-balls.”
“It’s possible for a plane to be exposed to lightning, and at the same to be caught in an up current which can reach speeds of 200 km/h,” he told BBC. “You can imagine the effect that has on a plane – complete depressurisation of course, almost uncontrollable.”
Air France CEO acknowledges that planed probably crashed in Atlantic due to heavy turbulence, CNN reports.