An Air France jet feared to have crashed into the Atlantic with 228 people on board today reported electrical problems shortly before vanishing.
The airline said the Airbus A330 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris sent an automatic signal indicating electrical problems while going through an area of strong turbulence.
It said the “craft crossed through a thunderous zone with strong turbulence” at 3am Irish time.
It said "an automatic message was received at 2.14am signalling electrical circuit malfunction".
The plane was carrying 12 crew and the passengers were a baby, seven children, 82 women and 126 men.
Aviation experts said it must have suffered a “catastrophic” failure to have gone down with virtually no warning.
There has been no receipt of a mayday call. The conclusion to be drawn is that something catastrophic happened on board that has caused this aeroplane to ditch in a controlled or an uncontrolled fashion,“ Jane’s Aviation analyst Chris Yates said.
“I would suggest that potentially it went down very quickly and so quickly that the pilots on board didn’t have a chance to make that emergency call,” he said, adding that the possibilities ranged from mechanical failure to terrorism.
Air France Flight 447 left Rio yesterday at 7pm local time.
The plane disappeared about 190 miles north-east of the coastal Brazilian city of Natal, near the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, around 1,500 miles from Rio.
The Brazilian air force began a search in the area
The region is about 1,500 miles north-east of Rio.
An Air France spokeswoman said the airline had set up an information centre at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport for the families of those aboard. That centre said 60 of the passengers were French.
“Air France regrets to announce that it is without news from Air France flight 447 flying from Rio to Paris,” she said. “Air France shares the emotion and worry of the families concerned.”
The flight was scheduled to arrive in Paris at 10.15pm local time.
French transport minister Jean-Louis Borloo said: “We can fear the worst.”
President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his “extreme worry” and sent ministers to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport to monitor the situation.
The head of investigation and accident prevention for Brazil's Civil Aeronautics Agency Douglas Ferreira Machado said: ``It's going to take a long time to carry out this search. It could be a long, sad story. The black box will be at the bottom of the sea.''
Meanwhile Air France-KLM chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said the pilot, whom he did not name, had 11,000 hours of flying experience, including 1,700 hours flying the Airbus.