Air France Official: 'We Can Fear the Worst'

Officials fear worst in missing Air France plane that was carrying 228 people.

ByABC News
June 1, 2009, 9:24 AM

June 1, 2009 — -- The search continues today for the missing Air France plane that disappeared with 228 people onboard over the Atlantic Ocean Sunday night as it flew from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

If there are no survivors, as many fear, it would be the world's worst aviation disaster since 2001.

The passengers came from at least 30 different countries including two U.S. citizens, 61 French citizens, 58 Brazilians, 26 Germans, nine Chinese and nine Italians.

Brazilian and French military aircraft are now scouring a vast swath of ocean between Brazil and the African coast for the Airbus A330.

Late last night it emerged that a pilot from Brazil's largest airline, TAM, reported having seen something in the sea while flying over the same area that the Air France Flight 447 was heading.

Air Force spokesman Col. Jorge Amaral told the Agencia Brasil official news service that authorities were investigating the report.

"There is information that the pilot of a TAM aircraft saw several orange points on the ocean while flying over the region," he said.

French military patrol planes from Senegal have joined Brazilian ones in searching this part of the Atlantic but conditions are very tough.

Commander Prazuck told the BBC Radio 4 Today program: "We are trying several patterns of search and hopefully we will find something today.

"But the weather is very bad and visibility is poor. We have to go fast... at the very beginning of the operation if we want to be efficient."

He added it was "very unlikely" that any survivors would be found echoing the word's of his president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who said Monday that he had told family members of passengers to prepare for the worst.

Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, expressed hope that "the worst hasn't happened," and said "we have to ask God" to help find survivors.

In France, Sarkozy was not the only government official to strike a somber tone. "We can fear the worst," Dominique Bussereau, France's transportation minister, told Europe-1 radio hours after the crash.

An Air France spokesperson told ABC News that the airline was "without any news from Air France Flight 447 from Rio to Paris with 216 passengers on board and a crew of 12 people ... three pilots and nine flight attendants. Air France is very concerned about the emotions and worries of the families involved."

The flight had been expected to land in Paris 5:15 a.m. ET. after leaving Rio around 6 p.m. Sunday night.

The head of Air France, Pierre Henri Gourgeon, told reporters at a news conference that the plane's last radio contact with Brazilian air control was at 9:30 p.m. ET.

Meanwhile, France's Environment Minister Jean Louis Borloo brushed off rumors of a hijacking, telling reporters that the plane probably suffered an accident of some kind.