Brazil's Air Force today said it had found aeroplane seats and other debris floating in the Atlantic Ocean along the path that the missing Air France jet was flying. The Air Force spokesman Jorge Amaral said the seats were spotted by search planes early this morning but authorities could not immediately confirm they were from the plane. Also spotted were small white pieces of debris, material that may be metallic and signs of oil and kerosene, which is used as jet fuel. The debris was found about 650km north-east of the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha. Air France flight 447, which was carrying 228 passengers and crew, disappeared in stormy conditions four hours into the journey between Rio de Janeiro and Paris yesterday, having sent a series of error messages after entering a storm.
Brazilian and French spotter planes have battled foul weather to sweep a patch of ocean halfway between South America and Africa. Officials have identified a zone about 1,100km off Brazil's northeastern coast based on the last signal from Air France flight AF 447, an automatic warning of multiple electric and pressurisation failures. The French president Nicolas Sarkozy and others warned there was very little hope of survivors from what appears to be the worst air accident in more than a decade and the worst loss of life in Air France's history. "The search will continue as long as necessary. All means are deployed in the area and we'll put as many assets at their disposal as necessary," the French defence minister Herve Morin said in an interview with Europe 1 radio.
The environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, whose brief includes the transport portfolio, said that if they wished the relatives of the missing passengers could be flown to the zone of the tragedy to watch the search. The US President Barack Obama pledged his country's help in the search. While the cause of the crash remained a mystery, Air France's chief executive said the aircraft had sent a series of error messages. "A succession of a dozen technical messages" sent by the aircraft around 5.15am showed that "several electrical systems had broken down" which caused a "totally unprecedented situation in the plane," said Pierre-Henry Gourgeon. "It is probable that it was shortly after these messages that the impact in the Atlantic came," he told reporters at Charles de Gaulle airport, where the flight was scheduled to have landed on Monday morning.
Airline officials earlier had said the plane had probably been hit by lightning, but Mr Gourgeon declined to make a direct link between the horrendous weather conditions and the error messages. "All possibilities must be examined. We cannot, by definition, exclude a terrorist attack, because terrorism is the main threat for all Western democracies," Mr Morin said. "But today we have no evidence whatsoever of the cause of the accident." The 216 passengers included 126 men, 82 women, seven children and a baby. There were 12 French crew members while the passengers came from 32 countries, including 61 from France, 58 from Brazil and 26 from Germany. AFP / AP