Officials investigate Argentina bomb threat as pilot claims Air France Flight 447 was blown out of the sky by terrorists

By Peter Allen, Ian Sparks and David Williams, Mail Online, June 3, 2009

Investigators are examining a bomb threat called in on a flight from Buenos Aires to Paris just days before Flight 447 disappeared over the Atlantic ocean, it has been revealed.

Aviation authorities are examining the possibility of a link between the threat to the Buenos Aires flight and the mysterious disappearance of Flight 447 with 228 people on board, a source has claimed.

Meanwhile an Air France pilot said it was 'highly likely' the jet was blown out of the sky by a bomb.

The long-haul captain said he believed Flight 447 was the victim of terrorist attack. No terrorist group has yet come forward to claim responsibility for such an attack, but the French government - baffled by the disappearance of the aircraft - has not ruled such an attack out.

Speaking under condition of anonymity to Le Figaro newspaper the pilot said: 'It is highly likely a bomb went off on board.

'I have flown these jets for Air France for more than ten years, and the chances of an electrical fault seem unfeasible to me.'

Ezeiza International Airport officials in Buenos Aires delayed an Air France flight from the city to Paris on the evening of May 27 after the bomb threat was called in.

Federal Police and airport safety officers inspected the plane and it was cleared for take-off, Argentine media reported. The search lasted about an hour and a half, and passengers were not evacuated from the plane.

Just four days later, Flight 447 dropped out of the sky so quickly that pilots did not even have time to make a Mayday call.

All 228 on board are believed to have perished.

‘Investigations are in process to see if the Argentina bomb threat was linked to what happened with the Brazil flight,’ said an Air France source.

‘Terrorism cannot be ruled out as we search for the reason for this tragedy.’

Investigators found debris from the wreckage of the doomed plane floating in the Atlantic yesterday - including a life jacket and a plane seat.

Now it's a race against time for the Brazilian Air Force to reach the crash site before the remaining debris sinks into the ocean - taking any chance of discovering what happened to Flight 447 with it.

They are desperate to recover the plane’s two black-box flight recorders which are now likely to be at the bottom of the ocean. They emit location signals for only 30 days.

But officials said there was virtually no chance of finding any of the 228 crew and passengers, including five Britons.

Distraught relatives who had prayed for a miracle gave up hope as experts were certain that all aboard died on the flight, which left Rio de Janeiro on Sunday night bound for Paris.

'I just want to find my son's body so that he can have a dignified burial,' said Aldair Gomes, the father of Marcelo Parente, who was the head of the Rio mayor's cabinet.

So far no bodies have been sighted on flyovers by the air force, which spotted evidence of the catastrophe yesterday, allowing the navy to mount a retrieval operation.

'The ships are equipped to arrive and pick up pieces of the Airbus,' Nogueira said.

'Each ship has two divers on board and smaller ships to throw into the ocean to try and get pieces.'

Helicopters would then be used to take wreckage of the Airbus A330 from the ships to a base on the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, 430 miles (700 km) from the crash site.

Today armed forces spokesman Christophe Prazuck said that the French army had no doubt that the debris belonged to the stricken plane.

Authorities are at a complete loss to explain why the four-year-old Airbus disappeared 400 miles off Brazil without issuing a Mayday.

A former Air France pilot said the aircraft might have hit a military jet or a plane used by drug smugglers.

‘Anything could have happened. Maybe a collision with another aircraft, maybe a military aircraft, maybe a drugs-smuggling aircraft which nobody reports missing,’ said Cedric Maniez.

Herve Morin, France’s defence minister, admitted last night there was ‘no evidence whatsoever’.

He added: ‘We cannot, by definition, exclude a terrorist attack, because terrorism is the main threat for all Western democracies.’

But it was significant that no terror group had claimed responsibility, he said.

The last radio message from Flight AF447 as it cruised at 522mph between Rio de Janeiro and Paris early on Monday reported heavy turbulence.

This raises the possibility of a catastrophic lightning strike – even though planes are built to withstand one.

‘It would be very unusual to have all the communications systems fail at once,’ said David Gleave, of Aviation Safety Investigations, a UK-based airport and air traffic control risk management consultancy.

‘That would tend to indicate that something catastrophic happened.’

An automatic message sent from the plane just before it disappeared said that it was losing pressure and had experienced an electrical failure.

French officials said bad weather was making the search difficult, with heavy cloud forcing planes to fly low over the water, limiting their line of vision.

A plane seat, a life jacket, metallic debris and signs of fuel were found by Brazilian military pilots yesterday about 410 miles north of the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha, roughly along the jet’s flightpath.

Investigators have confirmed they were from Flight 447.

There were no signs of life in two sightings of debris about 35 miles apart, Brazilian air force spokesman Jorge Amaral said.

‘The locations where the objects were found are toward the right of the point where the last signal of the plane was emitted,’ Mr Amaral said.

‘That suggests that it might have tried to make a turn, maybe to return to Fernando de Noronha, but that is just a hypothesis.’

Mr Amaral said authorities will not be able to confirm that the debris is from the plane until they can retrieve some of it from the ocean. Ships are not expected to arrive in the area until later today.

Air France is considered to be one of the world’s safest airlines and its A330 is one of the most secure passenger jets.

Jean-Louis Borloo, the French minister overseeing transportation, said: ‘There really had to be a succession of extraordinary events to be able to explain this situation.’

The chance of finding survivors was ‘very very small, even non-existent’, Mr Borloo added.

The five Britons, including an 11-year-old boy, were among passengers who numbered 61 French citizens, 58 Brazilians, 26 Germans, nine Chinese and nine Italians.

The 12-member crew included three pilots.

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