Air France 447 - Ships head for area where airplane debris spotted

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (CNN) -- Three commercial ships were expected to arrive around midday Tuesday at an Atlantic Ocean debris field believed connected to an Air France jet that disappeared Monday with 228 people on board, Brazilian aviation officials said.

The Airbus 330 went missing over the Atlantic early Monday on the way from Brazil to France.

The Airbus 330 went missing over the Atlantic early Monday on the way from Brazil to France.

Earlier Tuesday, searchers found an airplane seat, an orange life vest, small white fragments, an oil drum and signs of oil and kerosene about 700 kilometers (435 miles) northeast of the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, said Brazilian Air Force spokesman Jorge Amaral.

There was not enough material to officially say it is wreckage from Flight 447, Amaral said.

The debris was found 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of the plane's expected flight path, another Brazilian Air Force official said. See map of suspected crash zone »

Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago of 21 islands around 355 kilometers (220 miles) off the northeast coast of Brazil.

An earlier report by a crew from the Brazilian airline TAM, who said they saw "shiny spots" in the sea along the route of Flight 447, also prompted a search in the territorial waters off the African nation of Senegal.

Senegal is northeast of Fernando de Noronha and also near the plane's presumed flight path. Video Watch how wreckage has been spotted in Atlantic »

The Airbus A330 encountered heavy turbulence early Monday, about three hours after beginning what was supposed to be an 11-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, France, according to Air France CEO Pierre-Henri Gourgeon.

The plane carried 216 passengers -- 126 men, 82 women, seven children and a baby -- and 12 crew members, Air France said. Of the crew, 11 were French and one was Brazilian. Video Watch latest report on missing aircraft »

The majority of the presumed dead from the flight came from Brazil, France and Germany. The only two Americans on board -- Michael Harris, 60, and his wife, Anne, 54 -- were identified by the couple's family and his employer. In addition, victims came from 26 other countries.

"Anne and Mike were indeed a beautiful couple inside and out, and I miss them terribly already," said Anne Harris' sister, Mary Miley.

Michael Harris was a geologist in Rio de Janeiro for Devon Energy, the largest U.S.-based independent natural gas and oil producer, according to a company spokesman.

The couple had lived in the city since July 2008 and was traveling to Paris for a training seminar for Michael and for a vacation, Miley told CNN.

Another passenger was Prince Pedro Luis de Orleans e Braganca, a member of Brazil's non-reigning royal family, his family confirmed Monday. Pedro Luis was 26.

In addition, a spokeswoman for the French tire company Michelin told CNN that two company executives were on board the aircraft. She identified them as the president of Michelin Latin America, Luiz Roberto Anastacio, and the director of informatics, Antonio Gueiros. She added that Michelin was very saddened by their presumed deaths.

The jet was 4 years old and had last undergone routine maintenance on April 16. Video Watch report on what could have caused aircraft to go down »

Its crew included three pilots, including a 58-year-old captain who had logged 11,000 hours in flight, and nine cabin crew members, Air France said in a statement. Some 1,700 of the captain's hours were on two Airbus models. Of the two co-pilots -- ages 37 and 32 -- one had 3,000 hours of flying experience and the other 6,600 hours. The aircraft had flown 18,870 hours, the statement said.

Of the passengers, 149 had planned to connect to flights going elsewhere in Europe or as far away as China, Gourgeon said.

"This is a catastrophe the likes of which has never seen before," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, where he had met with relatives of those missing aboard the flight.

"I said the truth to them: The prospects of finding survivors are very low," he said. Video Watch comments from Sarkozy »

The jet, which was flying at 35,000 feet and at 521 mph, sent a warning that it had lost pressure, the Brazilian air force said.

The jet took off from Rio de Janeiro's Galeao International Airport at 11:30 p.m. Sunday. Its last known contact occurred at 02:33 a.m. Monday, the Brazilian air force spokesman said. It was not clear what that final contact was.

It was expected to check in with air traffic controllers at 03:20 a.m. but did not do so.

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