A Canadian man is on the list of passengers aboard the Air France flight that is presumed to have crashed in the Atlantic Ocean on Monday with 228 people on board.

Brad Clemes, a Coca-Cola executive born in Guelph, Ont., who resides in France, was reportedly aboard Flight 447 en route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro. It hit heavy turbulence four hours after takeoff and 15 minutes later sent an automatic message reporting electrical faults. The plane then disappeared from radar screens.

"It's a tragic accident. The chances of finding survivors are tiny," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport after meeting passenger relatives.

 

They were led away in tears by airport staff to a private area where psychologists were ready to assist them.

The plane’s 216 passengers and 12 crew members included seven children and one baby.

Etienne Kapikian, a French meteorologist, told Metro France the plane ran into trouble at the “inter-tropical convergence zone.”

“(This zone), is a stormy area, a hundred kilometres wide, with cumulonimbus (clouds) that can reach 16 kilometres high,” Kapikian said. When a plane reaches the zone, the pilot can “either fly over it, or fly around it. He goes through it only if he has no other choice.”

In this “convergence zone,” a plane has to face “violent winds, lightning, hailstorm or frost.”

A company spokesman said several of the plane's mechanisms had malfunctioned.

"It is probably a combination of circumstances that could have led to the crash," he said, adding that the airliner might have been hit by lightning.

Moacir Duarte, co-ordinator of engineering courses at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and expert in risk analysis, told Metro Brazil it’s unlikely that lightening — which is common — caused the crash.

He added that if there was an explosion, it would be hard to find out what happened during the flight as the wreckage will be spread around a large area of the ocean.

Although no wreckage has been found, the airline offered its condolences to the families of the passengers, making clear it did not expect any rescue.

Brazilian and French military planes as well as three Brazilian navy ships were sent to help with the search, but failed to find any signs of the plane by Monday afternoon.

Air France said the plane had 18,870 flight hours on the clock and went into service in April 2005. It last underwent maintenance in a hangar in April this year. The pilots were also very experienced, the airline said.

With files from Reuters