Plane 'crossed thunderous zone'
Paris - Air France says the Airbus jet that disappeared en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris sent an automatic signal indicating electrical problems while going through an area of strong turbulence.
Air France says in a statement the plane that carried 228 on board "crossed through a thunderous zone with strong turbulence", at 02:00 GMT on Monday.
It says "an automatic message was received at 02:14 GMT signalling electrical circuit malfunction".
It says the 216 passengers included one infant, seven children, 82 women and 126 men. It says the plane entered service in 2005 and last underwent maintenance on April 16.
The plane disappeared about 300km northeast of the coastal Brazilian city of Natal, near the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, a Brazilian air force spokesperson said. The air force began a search on Monday morning near Fernando de Noronha, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with air force policy.
An official with France's transport agency said contact with the plane was lost at 02:20 GMT on Monday. The official was not authorised to be named according to agency policy.
Aviation experts said it was clear the plane was not in the air any longer, due to the amount of fuel it would have been carrying.
"It's nearly three hours overdue. There has been no receipt of a mayday call. 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," Jane's Aviation analyst Chris Yates told The Associated Press.
The flight was scheduled to arrive in Paris at 09:15 GMT, according to the airport.
France's minister in charge of transport, Jean-Louis Borloo, said there was a "real pessimism at this hour" about the fate of the aircraft.
"We can fear the worst," he said on Europe-1 radio.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his "extreme worry" and sent ministers to Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport to monitor the situation.