PARIS — An Air France passenger jet traveling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared after its electrical systems malfunctioned during an electrical storm with heavy turbulence on Sunday evening, and officials said Monday that a search had begun for the wreckage near a small archipelago off the Brazilian coast.
Bob Edme/Associated Press
Air France's chief executive Pierre Henri Gourgeon spoke to reporters at the airline's headquarters, at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on Monday.
“We are very worried,” said an aviation official in Paris interviewed by Agence France-Presse. “It could be a transponder problem, but this kind of fault is very rare and the plane did not land when expected.”
The plane, an Airbus 330, was carrying 216 passengers and 12 crew members. The passengers were 126 men, 82 women, seven children and one infant. There were nine cabin crew members and three pilots, the airline said.
Four hours after the flight took off at 7 p.m. local time on Sunday, the plane encountered a storm with “very heavy turbulence,” an Air France spokeswoman, Brigitte Barrand, said. The plane disappeared from radar screens four hours and 10 minutes later, 10 minutes after the turbulence was reported.
The plane automatically sent a message informing air traffic control of electrical-system malfunction, Air France officials said in a press conference in Paris. They said there was no further communication.
All jets are built to withstand severe turbulence, especially at upper flying levels, and Ms. Barrand said that the pilot was very experienced, having clocked 11,000 flying hours, including 1,100 hours on Airbus 330 jets. Officials said the plane might have been struck by lightning.
A Brazilian Air Force spokesman said the plane disappeared over the Atlantic near the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha, a 7-square-mile island about 186 miles northeast of the coastal Brazilian city of Natal. Search efforts in the area were under way, the spokesman said, according to The Associated Press.
The plane was scheduled to arrive in Paris at 11:10 a.m. local time. It was operated by Air France and apparently did not share a flight code with Delta Air Lines, the American carrier that shares flights and routes with Air France.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France expressed grave concern about the missing airliner and sent his transport and environment ministers to the airport to monitor the situation.
Micheline Maynard contributed reporting from New York and Alexei.
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