Brazil confirms Air France jet crashed in ocean

June 2, 2009 1:38:58 PM PDT
Brazilian military planes found a 3-mile path of wreckage in the Atlantic Ocean, confirming that an Air France jet carrying 228 people crashed in the sea, Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said Tuesday. Jobin said Tuesday that discovery of the debris by Brazilian military pilots "confirms that the plane went down in that area" hundreds of miles from the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha.

He said the strip of wreckage included metallic and nonmetallic pieces, but did not describe them in detail. No bodies were spotted in the crash of the Airbus in which all aboard are believed to have died.

The discovery came just hours after authorities announced they had found an airplane an airplane seat, an orange buoy and signs of fuel in a part of the Atlantic Ocean with depths of up to three miles.

"The locations where the objects were found are toward the right of the point where the last signal of the plane was emitted," Amaral said. "That suggests that it might have tried to make a turn, maybe to return to Fernando de Noronha, but that is just a hypothesis."

The discovery came more than 24 hours after the jet went missing, with all feared dead.

The 4-year-old plane was last heard from at 0214 GMT Monday (10:14 p.m. EDT Sunday). If no survivors are found, it would be the world's worst aviation disaster since 2001.

Investigators on both sides of the ocean are trying to determine what brought the Airbus A330 down, with few clues to go on so far. Potential causes could include violently shifting winds and hail from towering thunderheads, lightning or some combination of other factors.

The crew gave no verbal messages of distress before the crash, but the plane's system sent an automatic message just before it disappeared, reporting lost pressure and electrical failure. The plane's cockpit and "black box" recorders could be thousands of feet (meters) below the surface.

The chance of finding survivors now "is very very small, even nonexistent," said the French minister overseeing transportation, Jean-Louis Borloo. "The race against the clock has begun" to find the plane's two black boxes, which emit signals up to 30 days.

Borloo said lightning alone, even from a fierce tropical storm, probably couldn't have brought down the plane. "There really had to be a succession of extraordinary events to be able to explain this situation," Borloo said on RTL radio Tuesday.

French police were studying passenger lists and maintenance records, and preparing to take DNA from passengers' relatives to help identify any bodies.

France's Defense Minister Herve Morin said "we have no signs so far" of terrorism, but all hypotheses must be studied.

Alain Bouillard, who led the probe into the crash of the Concorde in July 2000, was put in charge of France's accident investigation team.

President Barack Obama told French television stations the United States is ready to do everything necessary to find out what happened.

On board the flight were 61 French citizens, 58 Brazilians, 26 Germans, nine Chinese and nine Italians. A lesser number of citizens from 27 other countries also were on the passenger list, including two Americans.

Among them were three young Irish doctors, returning from two-week vacation in Brazil. Aisling Butler's father John paid tribute to his 26-year-old daughter, from Roscrea, County Tipperary.

"She was a truly wonderful, exciting girl. She never flunked an exam in her life - nailed every one of them - and took it all in her stride," he said.

The Airbus A330-200 was cruising normally at 35,000 feet (10,670 meters) and 522 mph (840 kph) just before it disappeared nearly four hours into the flight. No trouble was reported as the plane left radar contact, beyond Brazil's Fernando de Noronha archipelago.

But just north of the equator, a line of towering thunderstorms loomed. Bands of extremely turbulent weather stretched across the Atlantic toward Africa.

France's junior minister for transport, Dominique Bussereau, said the plane sent "a kind of outburst" of automated messages just before it disappeared, "which means something serious happened, as eventually the circuits switched off."

The pilot had 11,000 hours of flying experience, including 1,700 hours flying this aircraft.

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Associated Press writers Bradley Brooks in Rio de Janeiro, Alan Clendenning in Sao Paulo; and Emma Vandore, Jean-Pierre Verges and Laurent Joan-Grange in Paris contributed to this report.

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