An Air France jet carrying 228 people has disappeared and is presumed to have crashed into the Atlantic Ocean after hitting stormy weather during an 11-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris.
Authorities say Flight 447 was proceeding normally for at least the first four hours after takeoff, when it passed out of radar contact with Brazil beyond the Fernando de Noronha archipelago.
The Airbus A-330 later crossed through a tropical weather zone near the equator that frequently spawns strong turbulence and powerful thunderstorms. At about that time, the plane transmitted an automatic message reporting an electrical failure.
An Air France spokesman said a combination of circumstances, including lightning, could have brought down the plane. Lightning strikes on planes are common, however, and aviation experts say that alone could not explain what apparently was a disastrous crash into the ocean.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy went to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris Monday to offer his sympathy to passengers' families. He told reporters the chance of finding any survivors is very small.
Meanwhile, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he held out hope for survivors, but the French News Agency (AFP) reported he had spoken with the French leader by telephone earlier and that the conversation "was an exchange of condolences."
Search planes and ships from France, Brazil and Spain are looking for any sign of what happened to the big jet, which carried 216 passengers and 12 crew members.
Many of the passengers on board were Brazilian, French or German citizens. Nationals from more than two dozen countries, including two people from the United States, also were aboard the commercial jet.
Mr. Sarkozy said France has asked the United States to use its spy satellites and listening devices to help in the search effort. He told reporters it will be difficult to find traces of the plane, because the search area is immense.
Aviation experts say flight-recorder equipment aboard the Airbus automatically will broadcast a locator signal for 30 days, but that the ocean depths could sharply limit the signal's range.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.