DEBRIS floating on the Atlantic Ocean in the area where a missing Air France passenger jet is suspected of crashing has been sighted by crew on a French freighter, Brazilian media has reported.
The sighting by the crew on the Douce France is said to be in the same area off the coast of Senegal where a Brazil TAM airline pilot spotted what was thought to be a burning piece of wreckage.
Brazilian carrier TAM said the crew of one of its planes saw "bright spots" on the surface of the ocean. The sighting took place at about the same time that Air France Flight 447 vanished from radar.
The Airbus A330 carrying 228 people on board went missing on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said there was little chance of finding any survivors.
Planes are continuing to search the Atlantic Ocean. France and Brazil sent military aircraft and ships to try to find wreckage between Brazil and West Africa. US President Barack Obama has offered full assistance in the search.
"We will search all night long and keep going through dawn," said Colonel Jorge Amaral of the Brazilian air force.
"We have to work as if it were possible to find survivors."
If none are found, it would be the worst disaster in Air France's 75-year history and the deadliest since one of the company's supersonic Concorde planes crashed in 2000.
Air France flight 447 left Brazil on Sunday night local time and lost contact with air traffic controllers in the early hours of the morning ( about 12.15pm yesterday AEST).
It was carrying 216 passengers of 32 nationalities, including seven children and one baby, Air France said. Sixty-one were French citizens, 58 Brazilian and 26 German. Twelve crew members were also on board.
Tearful relatives in Paris and Rio were attended to by teams of psychologists.
The Air France plane flew into turbulent storms four hours after taking off from Rio and 15 minutes later sent an automatic message reporting electrical faults, the airline said.
The company said a lightning strike could be to blame and that several of the mechanisms on the Airbus 330-200, which has a good safety record, had malfunctioned.
But aviation experts said lightning strikes on planes were common and could not alone explain a disaster.
Sources with access to flight data sent to the World Meteorological Organisation said two Lufthansa jets passed through the same area of turbulence yesterday without incident.
Experts also said the plane could have suffered an electrical failure, effectively leaving the pilots "blind" and making the plane more vulnerable in an area notorious for harsh weather.
Aviation specialists said it could take a long time to locate the black box.
Air France said the plane, which was powered with General Electric engines, went into service in April 2005. It last underwent maintenance in a hangar in April this year
In October last year a computer glitch caused a Qantas A330 to climb before nose diving over Western Australia injuring dozens of passengers.
In November 2007 six people were injured in a "depressurisation incident" during the test flight of an Airbus A330 to be delivered to Air Mauritius.