Brazil Searching For Missing Air France Jetliner

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Officials say an Air France jet carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris lost contact with air traffic controllers over the Atlantic Ocean on Monday. Brazil immediately began a search mission off its northeastern coast.


We're reporting today on the disappearance of Air France flight 447. It left Rio de Janeiro last night on route to Paris with 228 people on board. It never arrived. Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane as it flew over the Atlantic Ocean. A search mission is underway, but there's little hope of finding survivors.

Let's go now to Eleanor Beardsley. She's following this story in Paris, and joins us live. And Eleanor, are there any indications of what may have caused this plane to just disappear?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Well, a couple hours ago, the CEO of Air France, Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, spoke to the press, and he said what everybody knows, is that the plane went into a storm and some automatic messages were sent - not from the crew, but they were automatically generated that the electrical system was experiencing difficulty and went out. After that, there was absolutely no more contact. So no one knows any more than that. But now, it's generated a lot of speculation. What everybody's talking about is lightning. People are saying that the plane was directly hit by lightning.

But I spoke with an aviation expert, Pierre Spanico(ph) who says that planes get struck by lightning all the time. It's very common. They're very protected. And he says that can't be the only reason. He says he's kind of surprised everyone's saying that. You can listen to what he says.

Mr. PIERRE SPANICO (Aviation Expert): It's just one possibility on a longer list, but it doesn't explain, at this point, any huge problem, and certainly not a crash. So this could be one of the reasons that it's far too early to say.

MONTAGNE: So lightning may or may not be a cause, could be a factor. Or what are the other possibilities that investigators are considering at this really early stage?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Spanico says with plane crashes, it's always complicated, and it's usually a series of events. I've heard some people say this was a very new plane. It's an excellent plane. You know, Air France-KLM is a top company. There are backup systems. You know, electrical systems don't just go out. And so one analyst on television said a little while that if an electrical system caught fire, that is one thing that is just automatically the worst thing that can happen. So there's some speculation about that.

MONTAGNE: And what can you tell us about search efforts? I gather planes are coming from several directions at this point, looking for this plane.

BEARDSLEY: That's right. Earlier this morning, you know, the Brazilian Air Force was out over the Atlantic, you know, off the coast of Brazil. But now we know that the plane lost contact about four hours into the flight, which puts it, you know, I think it was like a 10-hour flight. It puts it up on the - off the coast of West Africa. So now you have some French Air Force planes coming out of Senegal. So actually, they're looking on both sides of the Atlantic. But the area is huge where it could have, you know, gone down. And so this could just take weeks. And people are saying things may never be sound. The area's just too huge.

MONTAGNE: And how are Air France officials responding to this whole situation? It would be its worst crash ever if, in fact, everyone is lost.

BEARDSLEY: That's right. This is a huge, huge blow for Air France and for France. The French government and Air France have set up a crisis center at the airport. There's doctors and psychologists on staff to treat family members and friends. We just got some footage on TV of family members and friends. You know, they've whisked away. So they're really in privacy. And they're waiting for a visit from President Nicolas Sarkozy a little later today. But it's being treated as a huge disaster, and people are being helped on the spot.

MONTAGNE: Eleanor, thanks very much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Eleanor Beardsley, joining us from Paris, reporting on the apparent loss of Air France flight 447, bound for Paris from Rio de Janeiro with 228 people on board. You can keep up with developments at our Web site,, and we'll continue to follow the story during the day.

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