It now seems almost certain an Air France passenger jet that went missing between Rio de Janeiro and Paris has crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Airbus A-330 was carrying 228 people, including a dozen crew members, all of whom were French.
Roughly 50 out of the 216 passengers were French, some 60 were Brazilian, and the rest came from all over Europe, Africa and Asia.
Relatives waiting in Paris for the plane to land shortly after 11am local time were first told it was delayed before Air France informed them it had gone missing.
The jet, which had only undergone its last maintenance check in April, disappeared some four hours after leaving Brazil as it hit heavy turbulence. By then, it would have been far over the ocean.
A massive military search is underway in the area although the chances of finding anything are very slim.
“The succession of automatic messages (we received from the aircraft) mean there was a totally unforeseen and unexpected situation inside the plane, a big problem,” said Air France chief Pierre-Henri Gourgeon.
“It probably crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly afterwards, several hundred nautical miles from the Brazilian coast.”
Air France has expressed its condolences to the families of those on board in a sign it has doesn’t expect to find any survivors.
Initial speculation the aircraft could have been hijacked by terrorists has been dismissed by a senior French minister.
In the unlikely event any bodies are found, French police have started collecting DNA from the passengers’ and crew’s relatives for ID checks.