Five Britons on board plane missing over Atlantic
Five Britons were on board a passenger airliner which disappeared over the Atlantic.
The Airbus A330 and all 228 people on board, including a baby and seven children, remain missing.
Three Irish citizens, two from the Irish Republic and one from Northern Ireland, were also said to have been on the plane. They were best friends who were forging out promising careers as doctors and were returning home after a holiday in Brazil with other friends who graduated with them from Trinity College Dublin two years ago.
They were named locally as Aisling Butler, of Roscrea, Co Tipperary, Jane Deasy of Dublin and Eithne Walls, originally from Belfast.
They were travelling together on the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris along with a fourth woman, a British national from Wales.
Aisling’s heartbroken father John said he couldn’t describe his family’s grief.
Patricia Coakley, from Whitby, North Yorkshire, said she believed her husband Arthur was on the flight.
“He had just checked in his luggage and was waiting for his flight to be called,” she said.
Mrs Coakley said her husband had called every day and emailed several times a day during a four-week stint in Brazil working on an oil rig.
“His return date has been cancelled twice but he wasn’t supposed to be on this flight,” she said.
Mr Coakley’s business partner Ken Pearce said the previous flight which he had hoped to board was full.
She said the couple’s two sons and daughter were “distraught” although the family was not giving up hope of her “fabulous, kind” husband being found.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy tonight said there was a “very small” chance of finding survivors.
The aircraft, which was flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, had run into stormy weather with strong turbulence around four hours into the flight.
About 15 minutes after the turbulence message, an automatic message was received from the plane – AF447 – indicating a failure in the electrical circuit.
Mr Sarkozy, who met some of the families of those on board the plane at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, said: “I told them the truth.
“The prospects of finding survivors are very small.”
Brazilian Air Force planes were searching for the missing aircraft which left Rio at 11.03pm UK time on Sunday and had been due to arrive in Paris at around 10.15am UK time yesterday.
Air France said the plane, whose wings were made in Britain, could have been struck by lightning.
Aviation experts said turbulence and electrical problems were most unlikely to bring down a large passenger plane, while aircraft were well protected against lightning strikes.
But they pointed to turbulence as the cause of a BOAC (later British Airways) crash in Japan in 1966 with the loss of 124 lives, and to an electrical problem leading to a catastrophic fire which resulted in a Swissair plane going down off Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1998 with the loss of 229 lives.
A subsequent inquiry into the BOAC crash found the probable cause of the disaster was that “the aircraft suddenly encountered abnormally severe turbulence which imposed a gust load considerably in excess of the design limit.”
David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight International magazine, said: “An event like this is the kind the aviation world hoped it would not see again, because it involves a world-class carrier flying the latest generation of airliner, and it occurred en route, not during take-off or landing in difficult weather.”
Until now, no Airbus A330 passenger flight had resulted in fatalities.