Airbus A330 disappears over Atlantic

on Tuesday, June 2, 2009

An Air France jet carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris has disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean, according to news reports.

The plane is said to have run into a thunderstorm and chief Air France spokesman Francois Brousse said that "it is possible" that lightning struck the plane, according to an Associated Press report out of Sao Paulo.

Officials are assuming the worst.

Air France-KLM CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon has said that "We are without doubt facing an air catastrophe . . . At this time, the plane's fuel reserves would not permit it to still be in flight."

Fast Facts:
Flight number: Air France flight 447
Plane type: Airbus A330-200
Engines: General Electric CF6-80E
Capacity: 253 passengers
On board: 216 passengers (126 men, 82 women, 7 children and one infant), 12 crew (3 pilots and 9 flight attendants)
Departure: Rio, 7 p.m. local time (2200 GMT)
Scheduled arrival: 0915 GMT (2:15 a.m. Seattle time)

Aircraft flight hours: 18,870
Entered service: April 18, 2005
Last maintenance check: April 16, 2009, in the hangar

Pilot records:
Captain: 11,000 flight hours, including 1,700 hours on Airbus A330/A340s
First officer: 3,000 flight hours (800 of which on the Airbus A330/A340)
First officer: 6,600 flight hours (2,600 on the Airbus A330/A340)

(Sources: AP, Air France, Airbus)

The A330 has a good safety record.

"Since the A330 was built, there have been four whole losses, and that's where the plane is totaled, so to speak," said Emily McGee, spokeswoman for the Flight Safety Foundation.

One of the losses was during flight test in June 1994, and seven people were killed, according to data compiled by the Aviation Safety Network.

Two others were because of an attack by Tamil Tiger rebels at Colombo-Bandaranayake International Airport. Two SriLankan Airlines' Airbus A330 planes were destroyed.

In 2000, a Malaysia Airlines flight had just arrived from Beijing when 80 canisters of oxalyl chloride leaked, damaging the A330 aircraft beyond repair.

It is possible to lose contact with an aircraft and have the passengers be O.K., but that is probably not the case with the missing Air France plane, McGee said.

"You've got transponders that should be reflecting the location of the airplane to the controllers," she said. "There are also dead areas just with the curvature of the Earth, but everyone knows where those are. . . . Everyone's just making a lot of assumptions right now. I think it's safe to say we've all assumed the plane has crashed."

More details are available from this Associated Press report:

About four hours (after takeoff), the plane sent an automatic signal indicating electrical problems while going through strong turbulence, Air France said.

The plane "crossed through a thunderous zone with strong turbulence" at 0200 GMT Monday (10 p.m. EDT Sunday). An automatic message was received 14 minutes later "signaling electrical circuit malfunction."

Brazil's Air Force said the last contact it had with the Air France jet was at 0136 GMT (9:30 p.m. EDT Sunday), but did not say where the plane was then.

Brazil's air force was searching near the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) northeast of the coastal city of Natal, a spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with department policy.


If all 228 people were killed, it would be the deadliest commercial airline disaster since Nov. 12, 2001, when an American Airlines jetliner crashed in the New York City borough of Queens during a flight to the Dominican Republic, killing 265 people.

- seattlepi


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