BY Brian Kates
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER Searchers desperately combing the Atlantic for signs of missing Air France Flight 447, found small remains of an aircraft Tuesday in the doomed jetliner's flight path, officials said.
The debris included an aircraft seat, but investigators had not determined whether it was from the missing plane, which vanished Monday with 228 people aboard.
Two Americans, Michael Harris, 60, and his wife, Anne, 54, were among the passengers. The couple reportedly had lived for about a year in Rio de Janiero, where Michael Harris was a geologist for Devon Energy, the largest U.S. based natural gas and oil producer.
The couple was headed to Paris to attend a training seminar and vacation in France and Spain, relatives said.
"The search is continuing because it's very little material in relation to the size" of the Air France Airbus A330, said Air France spokesman Jorge Amaral.
He added that officials needed "a piece that might have a serial number, some sort of identification" to be sure that it came from the missing airliner.
The wreckage was located by the Brazilian Air Force about 400 miles northeast of that nation's Fernando do Noronha island, where the missing plane disappeared from radar screens.
The flight vanished early Monday, nearly four hours into its 11-hour flight.
Stormy seas left little hope of finding survivors.
The chance of finding survivors now "is very very small, even nonexistent," French transportation minister Jean-Louis Borloo said. "The race against the clock has begun" to find the two black boxes of the Airbus A330, which emit signals up to 30 days.
TAM airlines pilot reported seeing orange glimmers on the surface of the ocean under Senegalese airspace, but the French military's spokesman could not immediately confirm the sighting.
"We received this information...from a Brazilian pilot who said he'd seen faint glows on the surface, in an area consistent with the A330's last reported position," Captain Christophe Prazuck said.
President Obama told French television stations the United States was ready to do everything necessary to find out what happened to the missing plane. France has sought U.S. satellite help to find the wreckage.
The French sent a specially equipped surveillance plane to the area from a base in Senegal, as well as a frigate from the Caribbean and another ship from Portugal, officials said.
Two Brazilian air force jets conducted night searches over the Atlantic early Tuesday, joining other Brazilian aircraft, including two helicopters. The first of three Brazilian ships was expected to arrive in the remote area Wednesday.
France's Defense Minister Herve Morin said "we have no signs so far" that terrorism was involved, but told French radio "all hypotheses must be studied."
The Airbus 330 was cruising normally at 35,000 feet at 522 mph just before it disappeared. No trouble was reported as the plane left radar contact, beyond Brazil's Fernando de Noronha archipelago.
But just north of the equator, a line of towering thunderstorms loomed. Bands of extremely turbulent weather stretched across the Atlantic toward Africa.
Soon afterward, the plane sent an automatic message reporting electrical system failure and a loss of cabin pressure.
Investigators on both sides of the Atlantic worked through the night to determine what brought it down - wind and hail from towering thunderheads, lightning, or a catastrophic combination of factors.
"For the time being we can't find anything," said French military spokesman Christophe Prazuk. "There are a lot of squalls, a lot of storms."
Experts said the absence of a mayday call meant something happened very quickly.
If there are no survivors, as feared, it would be the world's worst aviation disaster since 2001.
French police were studying passenger lists and maintenance records, and preparing to take DNA from passengers' relatives to help identify any bodies.
The captain, whose named has yet to be released, was 58 and an Air France pilot since 1988, the airline said. He had 11,000 flying hours under his belt, including 1,700 on Airbus A330s or A340s.