Plane disappears over Atlantic

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World. An Air France jet took off last night from Rio de Janeiro. More than 200 people were on board. The plane was due to arrive at Charles de Gaulle Airport late this morning Paris time. But today, the Chief Executive of Air France, Pierre Henri Gourgeon said that the airport had its last contact with the plane at 3:30 a.m.


MULLINS: He said, "A little later at 4:00 a.m. the plane entered an area of strong turbulence and it disappeared over the Atlantic. The BBC's Adam Mynott is at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Adam, what do officials know for sure right now?

ADAM MYNOTT: To be honest, not a great deal. All they know for a fact is that at some stage on its flight, fairly early on into the flight, while the plane was maybe five, six hundred miles out over the Atlantic Ocean on its way from Brazil, a contact was lost with the plane. Now, initially, it was thought this might have been a routine error, but when the plane remained out of contact and didn't turn up here in Paris when it was expected, then fears grew and fears have intensified and now it's accepted that this plane has crashed somewhere over the ocean.

MULLINS: Well, in their efforts to try and find out more information about where the plane is right now, how is the French government and how is Air France getting information? What tools are they using?

MYNOTT: Well, clearly under normal circumstances they would have relied on radio contact, but that was broken. So what they have now put into place is a certain rescue operation. The French, I understand have sent three naval vessels. The Brazilians a number of vessels out to try and search the ocean in the area where it's thought this plane may have come down. Now, the difficulty is obviously they will be trying to pinpoint the search over what is a vast area of the Atlantic. So, it's going to be very difficult to find any signs of wreckage. The French President Nicolas Sarkozy was here at Charles de Gaulle Airport a little while ago and he spoke to some of the relatives and friends who've been waiting here all day. He came out and made a very brief statement where he said this was a catastrophe and he said that in his view, it was a question now of really looking to try and find out what had happened, but he thought there was very little chance of actually anyone being found alive.

MULLINS: Well, as for the officials themselves, they have apparently, officials in the government that is, asked the U.S. Military to use its network of spy satellites and listening stations to help find this craft. This Airbus A330-200, what is the safety record of it?

MYNOTT: Well, it's really very, very good, it's safety record. And this particular plane if this does indeed turn out to have been a fatal accident, it will be the first one of this model of plane to have been involved, I understand, in an accident where there have been fatalities. So we're dealing here with an aircraft which has a very good safety record. But you're right, the U.S. Administration has been asked to see if they can help out by trying to search the area by satellites. This will obviously work in cooperation with the sea search that's going on. And really, it's a matter of trying to pin, put together what is really very, very small amounts of information. And this may well take days or weeks or possibly even never to find out exactly what happened on board Flight AF447.

MULLINS: Just one more question, Adam. Is it possible for them to find out in some way if they never find the plane? I mean, if they don't find the fuselage, will they ever know if it was hit by lightning, if there's an electrical problem, or whatever?

MYNOTT: I mean, certainly the lightning theory was one that was being used by an Air France spokesman in the early hours after this accident happened. There's been absolutely no confirmation of that whatsoever. Now, if this plane did fall into the deep ocean and the black box flight recorder sunk to the bottom of the ocean, I think the chances of find that now are very, very slim. So, I'm standing outside Air France Headquarters here, and there are some very, very grim faces. People really have ... This has been a very, very black day here and obviously particularly black for the families and friends who were on board this flight.

MULLINS: All right. We will hope to have more information later on about this situation. The BBC's Adam Mynott at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Adam, thank you.

MYNOTT: Thank you.