Officials pessimistic about fate of missing Air France jet

PARIS (AP) - France's transportation minister says there's "real pessimism" about the fate of an Air France jet that disappeared over the Atlantic nearly 200 miles off the coast of Brazil.

The plane was carrying 216 passengers and a crew of 12 from Rio de Janeiro to Pairs. Air France says the plane "crossed through a thunderous zone with strong turbulence" about four hours into the flight, at which point the plane sent an automatic signal indicating a malfunction of its electrical circuit.

Brazil's air force began a search this morning near an island chain in the area. Aviation officials say the search could prove to be "a long, sad story."

Aviation experts says it's clear the plane is no longer in the air. Jane's Aviation analyst Chris Yates tells The Associated Press. it's probable "something catastrophic happened on board" that caused the plane to ditch so quickly the pilot didn't have a chance to make an emergency call.

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 0200 GMT Monday (10:00 p.m. EDT Sunday).

The statement says "an automatic message was received at 0214 GMT (10:14 p.m. EDT Sunday) signaling electrical circuit malfunction." It says the 216 passengers included one infant, seven children, 82 women and 126 men.

According to the statement, the plane entered service in 2005 and last underwent maintenance April 16.

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