SAO PAULO, Brazil -
An Air France jet carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris ran into a towering wall of thunderstorms and disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean. French President Nicolas Sarkozy told families of those aboard Monday that "prospects of finding survivors are very small."
Air France has confirmed that one Canadian citizen was on board the plane.
He has been identified as Brad Clemes, 49, a Coca-Cola executive who was born and raised in Guelph, Ont., and lived in Belgium.
A statement released Monday afternoon by the Department of Foreign Affairs said consular officials have been in contact with the missing Canadian's family to offer assistance and support. It offered no further details, citing the Privacy Act.
"Our thoughts are with the family," the statement said.
The area where the plane could have gone down is vast, in the middle of very deep Atlantic Ocean waters between Brazil and the coast of Africa. Brazil's military searched for it off its northeast coast, while the French military scoured the ocean near the Cape Verde Islands off the West African coast.
The official Agencia Brasil news agency quoted Brazilian Air Force spokesman Col. Jorge Amaral as saying that a commercial airplane pilot saw what appeared to be fire on the ocean near the route taken by the Air France plane.
"There is information that the pilot of a TAM aircraft saw several orange points on the ocean while flying over the region ... where the Air France plane disappeared," Amaral said, referring to the Brazilian airline TAM.
"After arriving in Brazil, the pilot found out about the disappearance (of the Air France plane) and said that he thought those points on the ocean were fire."
If all 228 were killed, it would be the world's deadliest commercial airline disaster since 2001.
Sarkozy, speaking at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, said the cause is unclear and that "no hypothesis" is being excluded. He called it "a catastrophe like Air France has never before known."
"(I met with) a mother who lost her son, a fiancee who lost her future husband. I told them the truth," he said.
Sarkozy said "it will be very difficult" to find the plane because the zone where it is believed to have disappeared "is immense." He said France has asked for U.S. satellite help to locate the plane.
Chief Air France spokesman Francois Brousse said "it is possible" the plane was hit by lightning, but aviation experts expressed doubt that a bolt of lightning was enough to bring the plane down.
Air France Flight 447, a four-year-old Airbus A330, left Rio Sunday night with 216 passengers and 12 crew members on board, said company spokeswoman Brigitte Barrand.
The plane indicated it was still flying normally more than three hours later as it left Brazil radar contact, beyond the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, at 10:48 local time (9:48 p.m. EDT). It was flying at 10,670 metres and travelling at 840 km/h.
About a half-hour later, the plane "crossed through a thunderous zone with strong turbulence." It sent an automatic message fourteen minutes later, reporting electrical failure and a loss of cabin pressure.
Air France told Brazilian authorities the last information they heard was that automated message, reporting a technical problem before the plane reached a monitoring station near the Cape Verde islands. Brazilian, African, Spanish and French air traffic controllers tried in vain to establish contact with the plane, the company said.