Wreckage seen in search area for missing Air France plane: Report (Second Lead)

June 2nd, 2009 - 8:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Paris, June 2 (IANS) Wreckage has been found in the Atlantic Ocean that could have come from a missing Air France jet that disappeared Monday with 228 passengers and crew on board, CNN said Tuesday citing Brazilian aviation officials.
Americans Anne and Michael Harris, who lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, were aboard the flight.

Brazilian, French and Senegalese rescue teams were combing vast sections of the Atlantic.

A report of “shiny spots” in the sea along the route of Flight 447 by a crew from the Brazilian airline TAM prompted a search in the territorial waters off Senegal, but without result.

The Airbus A330, carrying 228 people, encountered heavy turbulence early Monday, some three hours after it began the 11-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, France, according to Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon.

At that point, the plane’s automatic system initiated a four-minute series of messages to the company’s maintenance computers, indicating that “several pieces of aircraft equipment were at fault or had broken down”, he told reporters.

During that time, there was no contact with the crew, Gourgeon said.

The Airbus A330 was off radar and probably closer to Brazil than to Africa at the time, he said.

Two squadrons from Brazil’s air force launched a search near the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha in the Atlantic Ocean, about 365 km from Brazil’s coast, an air force spokesman told CNN.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France sent ships and planes to an area about 400 km from Brazil. “Our Spanish friends are helping us, Brazilians are helping us a lot as well,” he said.

The average depth of the Atlantic is close to 12,000 feet.

The plane carried 216 passengers - 126 men, 82 women, seven children and a baby - and 12 crewmembers, Air France said. Of the crew, 11 were French and one was Brazilian.

An official list of victims’ names was not available late Monday, but the only two Americans on board - Michael Harris, 60, and his wife, Anne, 54 - were identified by the couple’s family and his employer.

Michael Harris was a geologist in Rio de Janeiro for Devon Energy, the largest US-based independent natural gas and oil producer, according to a company spokesman.

The couple had lived in the city since July 2008 and was travelling to Paris for a training seminar for Michael and for a vacation.

Another passenger was Prince Pedro Luis de Orleans e Braganca, a member of Brazil’s non-reigning royal family, his family confirmed Monday. Pedro Luis was 26.

In addition, a spokeswoman for the French tyre company Michelin told CNN that two company executives were on board the aircraft. She identified them as the president of Michelin Latin America, Luiz Roberto Anastacio, and the director of informatics, Antonio Gueiros. She added that Michelin was very saddened by their presumed deaths.

The airline identified the nationalities of the other victims as: Argentine (1), Austrian (1), Belgian (1), Brazilian (58), British (5), Canadian (1), Chinese (9), Croatian (1), Danish (1), Dutch (1), Estonian (1), Filipino (1), French (61), Gambian (1), German (26), Hungarian (4), Icelandic (1), Irish (3), Italian (9), Lebanese (5), Moroccan (2), Norwegian (3), Polish (2), Romanian (1), Russian (1), Slovakian (3), Spanish (2), Swedish (1), Swiss (6), Turkish (1).

Of the passengers, 149 had planned to connect to flights going elsewhere in Europe or as far away as China, Gourgeon said.

“This is a catastrophe the likes of which Air France has never seen before,” Sarkozy told reporters at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, where he had met relatives of those missing aboard the flight.

France asked the US military to assist in the search with US detection satellites, French Transport Minister Jean-Louis Borloo told CNN affiliate France 2. Pentagon officials did not immediately confirm the request.

The jet, which was flying at 35,000 feet and at 521 mph, also sent a warning that it had lost pressure, the Brazilian air force said.

The jet took off from Rio de Janeiro’s Galeao International Airport at 11.30 p.m. Sunday. Its last known contact occurred at 02.33 a.m. Monday, the Brazilian air force spokesman said. It was not clear what that final contact was.

It was expected to check in with air traffic controllers at 03.20 a.m. but did not do so. Brazilian authorities asked the air force to launch a search mission just over three hours later.

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