Missing Air France jet hit by electric fault (Fourth Lead)

June 1st, 2009 - 8:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Paris, June 1 (IANS) An Air France plane missing over the Atlantic with 228 people aboard reported electrical problems in stormy weather before it lost contact, a media report said citing an airline official.
The Airbus A330-200 sent automatic messages signalling equipment failure as it hit turbulence early in its 11-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told a news conference, describing the loss as a “catastrophe”.

The last known contact with the plane was at 1.33 a.m. GMT, according to the Brazilian Air Force.

Brazil says it has launched two air force squadrons to hunt near the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha in the Atlantic Ocean, 365 km from its coast, although the plane vanished outside the country’s radar coverage.

Flight AF 447, took off shortly after 7 p.m. Sunday. It was carrying 126 men, 82 women, seven children and a baby, in addition to the crew, CNN reported.

“I can say without doubt that this is a catastrophe,” Gourgeon said, adding “the entire Air France company and its staff are very moved and affected by this.”

A crisis center was being set up at Charles de Gaulle to deal with anxious relatives and friends waiting for news of passengers. Air France has also set up a hotline.

Airbus has opened a crisis room and their flight safety team is in place, a company spokesperson told CNN. Airbus is working closely with authorities and Air France, he said, declining to comment further.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his “very deep concern” and asked the government “to implement every effort to find the plane,” according to a statement from his office.

Agence France-Presse quoted France’s Environment Minister Jean Louis Borloo saying that it was extremely unlikely the plane had been hijacked.

Gourgeon said the aircraft involved was a new Airbus piloted by a “particularly experienced crew”.

Analyst Kieran Daly of online aviation news service Air Transport Intelligence told CNN that the lack of communication with the aircraft “does suggest it was something serious and catastrophic.”

He said the aircraft involved is believed to be one delivered to Air France in April 2005. Watch aviation expert describe possible scenarios ”

“It is an extremely young fleet by aviation standards,” he said. “The A330 is state-of-the-art with extremely reliable engines made by General Electric.”

CNN air travel expert Richard Quest says the twin-engined plane, a stalwart of trans-Atlantic routes, has an impeccable safety record.

“It has very good range, and is extremely popular with airlines because of its versatility,” he said.

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