Plane: Relatives frantic

2009-06-01 20:00

Charles de Gaulle Airport - Red-eyed with tears, relatives of passengers on an Air France jet which vanished over the Atlantic gathered in Paris's main airport to await news of their loved ones.

With many in a state of shock, they were ushered into a cordoned-off area of the main terminal, expecting the worst after officials said flight AF447 appeared to have had an electrical failure during a lightning storm.

Many who had intended to greet the passengers off the flight from Rio at Charles de Gaulle airport in mid-morning were instead informed that the plane had vanished off the radar screen several hours earlier.

The arrivals boards in the terminal building said the plane had been "delayed" while messages on the public address system in French, Portuguese and English told anyone waiting for the flight to head to the arrivals desk in Terminal 2E.

Uniformed teams from Air France and the airport refused to say how they had broken news to the relatives.

'Now is not the time'

Shortly afterwards, two young women, their eyes swollen with weeping, brushed away questions by reporters, one of them saying: "Now is not the time."

On his arrival at the airport, Transport Secretary Dominique Bussereau said he would not be sucked into "false speculation", urging caution until the facts about the incident became clear.

"Let's just take our time," he said before going to meet some of the families.

Air France said that it appeared that it was most likely that the plane had been hit by lightning.

Stormy area

"The plane was in a stormy area with strong turbulence, which provoked problems," said Francois Brousse, Air France's director of communications.

Contemplating what could be the worst accident in the company's history, Air France chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told reporters: "We are without a doubt faced with an aviation catastrophe.

"The entire company is thinking of the families and shares their pain," he added.
President Nicolas Sarkozy was at the airport to meet with relatives of the missing.

Air France meanwhile said that the evening flight from Paris to Rio was still scheduled to take off at 21:20 GMT but would not say if there had been any cancellations by passengers.