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Wreckage confirmed as belonging to missing jet

Brazil's air force said it had found aeroplane seats and other debris floating in the Atlantic Keystone

French and Brazilian authorites have confirmed that wreckage found in the Atlantic belongs to an Air France jet that went missing on Monday with 228 people on board.

This content was published on June 3, 2009 - 09:04

Air France flight 447 left Brazil on Sunday and lost contact with air traffic controllers during a severe storm. Swiss Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger has sent a letter of condolence to his counterparts in France and Brazil.

Brazilian navy divers were headed on Wednesday to a 5km strip of water strewn with aeroplane seats, an orange buoy, pieces of metal and jet fuel. The area is about 1,200km northeast of the coastal city of Recife.

A French government spokesman said they would await the official results of an analysis of the debris but "there is no longer any doubt" that the wreckage belonged to missing flight.

The Paris-bound Airbus was carrying 216 passengers of 32 nationalities, including seven children and one baby. Air France expressed its "sincere condolences to the families and relatives of passengers and crew members".

The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed that six Swiss were on board. Leuenberger on Tuesday expressed his dismay at the accident and offered the support of the Swiss government to families of the victims.

The aircraft flew into "a thunderous zone with strong turbulence" four hours after taking off from Rio de Janeiro and 15 minutes later sent an automatic message reporting electrical faults and loss of cabin pressure, the airline said.

Brazil's air force, which last had contact with the plane at 1.33am on Monday when it was 565 km (350 miles) from Brazil's coast, sent six aircraft to look for it and the navy dispatched three ships to help. France also asked the United States to assist in locating the crash site using satellite data.

"We have to work as if it were possible to find survivors," said Colonel Jorge Amaral of the Brazilian air force.

Malfunction

Air France said a lightning strike could be to blame and that several of the mechanisms on the Airbus 330-200, which has a good safety record, had malfunctioned. The firm said the plane, which was powered with General Electric engines, went into service in April 2005 and last underwent maintenance in April.

But aviation experts commented that lightning strikes on planes were common and could not be the only cause of a disaster. Reuters news agency reported that flight data sent to the World Meteorological Organization reported that two Lufthansa jets passed through the same area of turbulence on Monday without incident.

Relatives in Paris and Rio were being cared for by teams of psychologists. Sixty-one passengers were French citizens, 58 Brazilian and 26 German. Twelve crew members were also on board.

If no survivors are found, it would be the worst disaster in Air France's 75-year history.

swissinfo.ch with agencies

Telephone hotlines

The Swiss foreign ministry has set up a hotline for concerned relatives of passengers: 031 323 30 99.

Air France has several telephone lines open:
0800 800 812 from France
0800 881 20 20 from Brazil
+ 33 1 57021055 from other countries.

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The worst crashes in recent history

20.08.2008
An MD-82 Spanair aircraft explodes shortly after take-off from Madrid airport. 154 of the 172 passengers are killed.

17.07.2007
An airbus A320 belonging to Brazil's largest airline, TAM Linhas Aereas, overshoots the runway, crashes and bursts into flames in Sao Paulo, killing all 187 people on board and 12 on the ground.

22.08.2006
170 people are killed when a Tupolev-154 Pulkovo flight crashes north of Donetsk in Ukraine, probably after a lightning strike.

16.08.2005
A Colombian MD-82 flight from Panama to Martinique crashes. All 160 passengers on board die.

03.01.2004
All 148 passengers, including 133 French people, are killed in a crash of an Egyptian Boeing 737 off the coast of the seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

12.11.2001
An American Airlines airbus A300-600 crashes into the Queens neighbourhood after take-off from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. 265 people are killed.

25.07.2000
An Air France Concorde crashed on take off in Paris, killing 113 people.

02.09.1998
A Swissair MD-11 flight crashes off the Canadian coast near Halifax, killing all 215 passengers and the 14 crew members.

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