French airliner missing over Atlantic, 228 on board (Third Lead)June 1st, 2009 - 7:55 pm ICT by IANS
Paris/Rio de Janeiro, June 1 (DPA) An Air France flight with 228 people on board has been lost over the Atlantic Monday morning, sparking a major search mission off the Brazilian coast.
The Airbus A330-200, flight number AF 447, left Rio de Janeiro for Paris, but radio contact was lost with the plane shortly after 0600 GMT, reports in both countries said.
“The plane could have been hit by lightning,” said the Chief Executive of Air France, Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, suggesting the plane could have lost its power supply during a storm.
“We are undoubtedly facing an aviation catastrophe,” he added.
In Paris, the Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau, warned that “we must unfortunately prepare for the worst”.
Experts have not ruled out a terrorist attack.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was “greatly concerned” about the situation, according to his office, and a special crisis team and facilities have been set up at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport - where the plane had been due to land at 09.10 GMT.
The Brazilian air force has now scrambled a search and rescue mission to the area around the tiny island of Fernando de Noronha, around 300 km off the northeast coast of Brazil.
A French military reconnaissance aircraft has also taken off from Senegal, on the west African coast, to take part in the search mission.
French RTL broadcaster quoted Brazilian air traffic controllers as saying there had been no distress message from the plane.
According to Brazilian broadcaster Globonews, there were 216 passengers, and 12 crew on board.
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