According to CNN Air France Flight AF 447 had sent automatic messages from the air that signaled it was experiencing equipment failure while flying through turbulence early in its transatlantic flight.
According to the Brazilian Air Force the last known contact with the troubled A330 Airbus was at 8:33pm Eastern Time Sunday night (May 31st), about two hours after the flight had taken off from Rio de Janeiro.
The Brazilian Air Force has launched two squadrons in an effort to locate the plane. Meanwhile a crisis center has been set up at Charles de Gaulle International airport in Paris, where the plane was to have landed.
Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon was grim-faced when he appeared before reporters at a hastily called news conference. "I can say without doubt that this is a catastrophe," Gourgeon said, adding "the entire Air France company and its staff are very moved and affected by this."
The passenger manifest reveals 126 men, 82 women, seven children and a baby in addition to the crew, according to a CNN affiliate. Gourgeon is reported to have described the crew of Flight AF 447 as "extremely experienced."
The disappearance of the commercial jetliner over the Atlantic Ocean could be one of the worst air disasters in aviation history. The Air France flight was bound from Rio de Janeiro to Paris and dropped out of sight somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. A plane crash is feared and likely.
Air France flight AF 447 was carrying 228 occupants when it suddenly disappeared about 186 miles northeast of Natal near Fernando de Noronha.
Earlier reports suggested a transponder problem, but according to aviation officials "this kind of fault is very rare and the plane did not land when expected."
The airliner was scheduled to land at Charles de Gaulle airport at 11:15 am Paris time following a non-stop flight from Brazil.
It never arrived.
A search for wreckage is currently underway over the Atlantic Ocean near the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha. The plane could have diverted to another airport if it encountered difficulty, but the landing would have been reported if not by the aircraft (if it was experiencing a communications problem), then by the receiving airport.
There has been no such communication from anyone. Air France flight AF 447 simply dropped from the radar screen over the Atlantic Ocean. There was no mayday call from the cockpit aside from the automatic messages; nothing to suggest the plane was encountering difficulty.
A horrific plane crash is now thought probable.
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An aviation analyst told CNN that the lack of communication with the aircraft did not bode well with the hope of finding the plane intact, nor does it bode well for the passengers. Kieran Daly says that the sudden loss of radar contact and the lack of communication "does suggest it was something serious and catastrophic."
It is believed that the particular Airbus A330 aircraft has been in service at Air France since the spring of 2005.
"We are very worried," said the aviation official in Paris.