RIO DE JANEIRO – How does a commercial airplane just disappear in the middle of a flight?
Air France Flight 447 took off from Rio at 7:00 p.m. local time Sunday night carrying 216 passengers and 12 crew members, but Brazil's Air Force says that the Airbus A330 passenger plane disappeared near the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha, a 7-square mile island about 186 miles northeast of the coastal Brazilian city of Natal.
The last contact with the plane was at 10:36 p.m. Brazil time.
Let the search begin
“We have two planes up there searching,” said Air Force spokesman Col. Henry Munhoz. He refused to discuss causes, saying it would be speculation. He said one search aircraft was a Hercules and the other a Bandeirantes plane used specifically for such reconnaissance missions. However, he also cautioned that it was a "visual search" and was dependent on cloudless skies.
Brazil is also pointing out that the search area could be three times the size of Europe.
"The plane might have been struck by lightning. It's a possibility," said Francois Brousse, head of communications at Air France, according to a Reuters report. Earlier, Air France said the plane encountered turbulence and had reported an electrical fault via an automatic message.
"We can fear the worst," he said.
But French President Nicolas Sarkozy has dispatched top officials to look into the situation. He expressed his "extreme worry" and sent the junior minister for transport, Dominique Bussereau, and Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo to Charles de Gaulle airport to monitor the situation.
Good safety record so far
The Airbus A330 has "enjoyed a near-perfect safety record since it began commercial operation in 1993," reports The Guardian.