Flight 447 left Rio De Janeiro, Brazil with 216 passengers and a crew of 8 at 7:30am local time Sunday, bound for Paris. About three and a half hours later, Air France said the plane sent an automatic signal indicating electrical problems while going through strong turbulence. That was the last communication from the plane. At the time, it was 60 miles south of the Cape Verde Islands.
Experts say the lack of a mayday call meant something happened very quickly. Jane's Aviation analyst Chris Yates told The Associated Press:
"The conclusion to be drawn is that something catastrophic happened on board that has caused this airplane to ditch in a controlled or an uncontrolled fashion. Potentially it went down very quickly and so quickly that the pilot on board didn't have a chance to make that emergency call."
There is the possibility that the plane was hit by lightning, But aviation experts say the chances of a plane being brought down by a bolt of lightning are slim. Planes have measures built in to help dissipate electricity along the aircraft's skin, and are tested for resistance to big electromagnetic shocks and equipped to resist them.
Air France expressed "its sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew members" aboard Flight 447. The airline did not confirm the plane was down, but no sign of the plane have thus far turned up. Air France-KLM CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon said at a news conference at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris:
"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."
The area where the plane, a 4-year-old Airbus A330, might have crashed in huge. Brazil's military is searching off of its northeastern coast. The French military is concentrating off the West African coast near the Cape Verde Islands.
If all 228 people are indeed dead, this would be the world's deadliest commercial flight since November 12, 2001, when 265 people were killed when an American Airlines flight went down in a neighborhood in Queens, New York. Five of those killed were on the ground.