Vast search under way for Air France jet

June 1, 2009 at 9:06 PM

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 1 (UPI) -- French and Brazilian military aircraft and ships searched the Atlantic Ocean Monday for wreckage of a missing Air France jetliner with 228 people on board.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said chances of finding survivors from the missing Air France jetliner with 216 passengers and 12 crew aboard were "very low," CNN reported.

"This is a catastrophe the likes of which Air France has never seen before," Sarkozy told reporters at Paris' Charles de Gaulle International Airport, where he had met with relatives of the missing aboard the flight from Rio de Janeiro. "I said the truth to them: the prospects of finding survivors are very low."

Officials said the vastness of the search area and the uncertainty about the time when the Airbus 330-200 went down complicated search-and-rescue efforts, The Guardian said. Brazilian teams concentrated on an area north of Fernando de Noronha, an island about 200 miles off the Brazilian coast, while the French military combed the west Atlantic near the Cape Verde islands hundreds of miles away.

Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, Air France chief executive officer, said search teams also would focus on an area of a few dozen nautical miles roughly midway between Brazil and Africa, the British newspaper said. French officials also asked the U.S. for satellite data to help with the search.

The plane likely was the victim of a "huge catastrophe," Gourgeon said, adding that electrical problems and turbulence also were reported.

The jet had sent out a warning it had lost pressure, the Brazilian Air Force said. It lost contact with air traffic control between Galeao International Airport in Rio de Janeiro and the destination airport in Paris, Air France said.

The plane sent out an automatic signal warning of the electrical problems as it flew "far from the coast" after entering a stormy area with strong turbulence, an Air France spokeswoman said.

Air France said 61 passengers were French and 58 were Brazilians, the BBC reported. Brazilian authorities said 26 Germans were on board, along with nine Chinese, nine Italians, six Swiss, five British, five Lebanese, four Hungarians, three Irish, three Norwegians, three Slovaks, two Americans, two Moroccans and individuals from Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Demark, the Netherlands, Estonia, the Philippines, The Gambia, Iceland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Sweden and Turkey, the BBC said.

The nationalities and other details of the 12 crew members were not available, the BBC said.

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