The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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June 5, 2009

June 3, 2009 - The Daily Star - Five Lebanese confirmed on board missing Air France plane

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazilian military planes spotted debris in the Atlantic Ocean Tuesday that could be wreckage of a missing Air France flight carrying 228 people, including five Lebanese, that apparently crashed in a storm the previous day. The Lebanese Foreign Affairs Ministry on Tuesday released the names of five Lebanese who were, based on information from the Lebanese Embassy in Paris, onboard the flight. The Lebanese citizens were: Ahmad Fawzi, Hussein Khalife, Akram Koo, Bassam al-Murr and Sonia al-Moallem.

Air Force pilots saw metallic objects, plane seats, an orange buoy and jet fuel stains in the water about 650 kilometers north of the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha off Brazil's northeastern coast.

Brazil's navy said a Dutch commercial ship was nearby and would arrive in the area shortly. Brazilian Navy ships, one carrying a helicopter, were not expected to arrive in the area until Wednesday.

The chances of finding survivors appeared close to nil and authorities were treating the passenger list as a death toll.

"The plan now is to focus our efforts to collect the debris and try to identify if they belong to the Air France plane," Brazilian Air Force Colonel Jorge Amaral said in Brasilia, the capital.

"We can't really say this is part of the airplane. The command center needs to have at least one piece of the debris with a serial number to confirm that it belongs to the airplane."

Three Brazilian Air Force Hercules planes took off from the islands of Fernando de Noronha, which sit about 370 kilometers off the coast of South America, early Tuesday to look for traces of the Airbus A330.

The area is near where the last contact was made with the flight that took off for Paris from Rio de Janeiro Sunday night and went missing in storms about four hours later without sending any distress signal.

Brazil's Air Force last had contact with the plane at 0133 GMT Monday when it was 565 kilometers from Brazil's coast. The last automated signals were received at 0214 GMT.

If no survivors 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.

The aircraft sent an automatic message reporting electrical faults before it went missing. But aviation experts said they did not have enough information to understand how a modern plane with an excellent safety record and operated by three experienced pilots could have crashed.

"All scenarios have to be envisaged," French Defense Minister Herve Morin said on Europe 1 radio. "We can't rule out a terrorist act since terrorism is the main threat to Western democracies, but at this time we don't have any element whatsoever indicating that such an act could have caused this accident," Morin added.

The flight was carrying 216 passengers of 32 nationalities, including seven children and one baby. Sixty-one were French citizens, 58 Brazilian 26 German and five Lebanese. Twelve crew members were also on board.

Senior French Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said it was crucial to locate the black boxes, or flight recorders, which are programmed to emit signals for up to 30 days. "This is a race against the clock," he told RTL radio.

Distraught relatives of the passengers were assisted by teams of psychologists in Paris and Rio.

French electrical equipment firm CGED said 10 of its staff were on the missing plane with their partners after winning a trip to Brazil in the company's annual sales contest.

An Air France spokesman said Monday a lightning strike could be to blame for the disaster. But aviation experts said such strikes on planes were common and could not alone explain the downing of a modern plane.

Experts were baffled by the absence of any distress messages, either human or automatic, from the aircraft. No mayday message was picked up, nor were any signals received from emergency beacons that should have transmitted automatically.

"It would be very unusual to have all the communications systems fail at once," said David Gleave of Aviation Safety Investigations, an airport and air traffic control risk management consultancy based in Britain. "That would tend to indicate that something catastrophic happened." Morin said France had sent three jets, one AWACS or airborne warning and control system, as well as two naval vessels to search for the plane. The United States agreed to help locate the crash site using satellite data. -

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