Officials have said they believe flight AF447 ran into a towering wall of thunderstorms over the Atlantic Ocean, between Brazil and the African coast.
The Irish women are Jane Deasy from Dublin, Aisling Butler from Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and Eithne Walls from Belfast.
The young doctors, who attend Trinity College Dublin, had been on holiday in Brazil with other college friends.
Aisling’s heartbroken father, John, said he couldn’t describe his family’s grief. “We know Aisling is gone, we are sure of that,” he said. “It is just abouttrying to live now. I have to live for my wife and my only other daughter, Lorna.” When he heard about the missing plane he initially thought Aisling’s flight wasdue in the following day but decided to checked travel details in his deleted emails. “When I opened it up, a nightmare opened up as well,” he said.
Last night, Brazil’s military were searching for the plane off the country’s north-east coast, while the French military scoured the ocean near the Cape Verde Islands off the west African coast.
If all 228 passengers and crew were killed, it would be the worst commercial airline disaster in 18 years.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen last night expressed his solidarity with families across the world anxiously waiting for news of loved ones.
“Our primary concern is for victims’ families during this difficult time. The Government is offering support to the Irish families as they await news,” he said.
Air France-KLM chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, at a news conference, said the plane’s pilot had 11,000 hours of flying experience, including 1,700 hours flying this aircraft.
Air France flight 447, a four-year-old Airbus A330, left Rio on Sunday at 11.03pm Irish time with 216 passengers and 12 crew members on board.
The plane left Brazil radar contact, beyond the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, at 2.48am Irish time, indicating it was flying normally at 35,000ft and travelling at 840km/h.
About a half an hour later, the plane “crossed through a thunderous zone with strong turbulence”. It sent an automatic message 14 minutes later at 3.14am reporting electrical failure and a loss of cabin pressure.
Air France told Brazilian authorities the last information they received was an automated message reporting a technical problem before the plane reached a monitoring station near the Cape Verde islands.