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Air France says no hope after crash

AIR France has told families of passengers on Flight 447 that the jetliner broke apart and they must abandon hope that anyone survived, a grief counselor said yesterday as military aircraft tried to narrow their search for the remains of the plane.

Air France's CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon, speaking to families in a private meeting, said the plane disintegrated either in the air or when it slammed into the ocean and there were no survivors, according to Guillaume Denoix de Saint-Marc, who was asked by Paris prosecutors to help counsel relatives.

The plane, carrying 228 people, disappeared after leaving Rio de Janeiro for Paris on Sunday night.

Investigators were relying heavily on the plane's automated messages to help reconstruct what happened to the jet as it flew through towering thunderstorms. They detail a series of failures that end with its systems shutting down, suggesting the plane broke apart in the sky, according to an aviation industry official with knowledge of the investigation.

"What is clear is that there was no landing. There's no chance the escape slides came out," said Denoix de Saint-Marc, who heads a victims' association for UTA flight 772, shot down in 1989 by Libyan terrorists.

No survivors makes Flight 447 Air France's deadliest plane crash and the world's worst commercial air accident since 2001.

Military rescue planes were trying to narrow the search zone yesterday as ships headed to the site to recover wreckage. The "extreme cloudiness" in the search zone also prevented American satellites scanning the area from providing any useful leads, according to French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck.

Brazil's Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said debris discovered so far was spread over a wide area, with 230 kilometers separating pieces of wreckage. The overall zone is roughly 640km northeast of the Fernando de Noronha islands off Brazil's northern coast, where the ocean floor drops down as far as 7,000 meters. The floating debris includes a 7-meter chunk of plane, but pilots have spotted no sign of survivors, according to Brazilian Air Force spokesman Colonel Jorge Amaral.

But French military spokesman Prazuck said yesterday that French planes had made six missions over the area and have yet to spot any wreckage.

"As of today French planes have not found any debris that could have come from the Air France Airbus that disappeared," he said. "There have been radar detections made by the AWACS (radar plane) ... and each time these signals have not corresponded to debris." He added that French teams have been searching in different places than the Brazilians.

Three more French overflights were planned for yesterday, Prazuck said. A US Navy P-3C Orion surveillance plane also joined Brazil's Air Force in trying to spot debris.

Heavy weather delayed until next week the arrival of deep-water submersibles considered key to finding the black box cockpit voice and flight data recorders that will help answer the question of what happened.

Families of those aboard mourned worldwide. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner attended a Mass in Rio for the victims of the crash.


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