Military planes and ships from France and Brazil are continuing their search for the wreckage of the missing Air France jet. All 228 people aboard are believed to have died when the Airbus 330 vanished after flying into a line of severe tropical storms at about 2am GMT yesterday.
Air France said that the area of the likely crash had been narrowed down to a few dozen square miles midway between Brazil and northwest Africa.
The only clue to the disappearance, which was on a night flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, was an automated transmission from the aircraft reporting sudden electrical and cabin pressure failures.
Passengers included 61 French, 58 Brazilians and 26 Germans among the 33 nationalities represented.
French ministers initially ruled out sabotage or hijacking and said that Air France’s worst disaster had probably been caused by lightning, though stressed it was too early to draw conclusions.
Since there is no radar cover over the ocean, the crew had been due to check in with the next oceanic control at 2am. Air France said that it entered “a thunderous zone with strong turbulence” at that time.
The last communication was the data link message at 2.15am reporting a failure of electrical power, pressurisation and other systems, suggesting that the aircraft was already out of control.
Airline pilots speculated that the airliner could have flown into one of the powerful storms cells strong enough to turn a big aircraft on its back and that are usually avoided.
Air France has one of the world’s best safety records safest and the A330 one of the most secure passenger jets. The A330 airliners have never before had a fatal crash during a commercial flight in a decade of operations. But the crash is expected to renew suspicions about the highly automated systems that run the Airbus family.