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View from Paris: A puzzling tragedy dawns slowly

President Sarkozy calls Air France Flight 447 an unprecedented "catastrophe."

By Staff writer / June 1, 2009


The mysterious fate of Air France flight 447 took place when France was asleep.

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Monday dawned fine and clear, a holiday – Pentacost Monday – the end of a 3-day weekend; the kind of day Parisians spend strolling in parks or people-watching from café tables.

The flight from Rio was on no one's lips.

They talked about the French Open, where Rafael Nadal uncharacteristically lost on Sunday. They chatted about the financial collapse of fashion designer Christian Lacroix. Parents carried kids on their shoulders to an Eiffel tower exhibition.

Not until about 11 a.m., the time the Rio-to-Paris Air France flight was scheduled to land here, did news begin to dribble out.

By 2 p.m. sporadic reports of a missing plane coursed through crowded cafes, seeming to fall out of the sky like some errant news meteor – a tragedy at odds with a brilliant blue afternoon.

By the end of the day, French President Nicolas Sarkozy had arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport. He stated forthrightly and somberly: “Tonight we have lost trace of an Air France airplane with 228 people on board, passengers and crew. We have no exact idea what happened. It's a catastrophe the likes of which Air France has never seen.”

The puzzle left in the wake of today’s reports: How, in an era of Mars landings, Skype, and stock prices on cellphones carried into the Himalayas – does an aircraft with 228 people, 8 of them children, go missing?

By 2:30 p.m. the French media had shaken off the holiday vibe and was giving the event wall-to-wall coverage.

The director general of Air France, Pierre Henri Gourgeon said that, “'Air France is sorry to announce the disappearance of the AF 447 flight between Rio de Janeiro and Paris-Charles de Gaulle, arrival scheduled this morning at 11.10 AM.”

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