Families hold Rio memorial for doomed Air France flight

8th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

Families of the 228 people who died when an Air France jet airliner crashed off Brazil's northeast coast in June held a private memorial service Saturday at an ocean overlook in Rio de Janeiro.

Rio De Janeiro - Families of the 228 people who died when an Air France jet airliner crashed off Brazil's northeast coast in June held a private memorial service Saturday at an ocean overlook in Rio de Janeiro.

European relatives of those who perished on flight AF 447 as it was flying from Rio to Paris arrived Friday on a chartered Air France plane.

They met Brazilian kin to pay respects at a new memorial erected in Rio's upmarket beach-side suburb of Leblon.

A junior French minister, Alain Joyandet, in charge of overseas cooperation, attended the event along with Air France chief Jean-Cyril Spinetta, according to Joyandet's office.

The event, limited to around 500 people, was closed to reporters at the request of relatives, the organizers said. Police blocked the streets leading to the site.

"It was a ceremony filled with dignity... to allow the families to express their mourning," Joyandet said at the end of the outdoor event, which lasted around two hours.

At the ceremony a glass memorial engraved with 228 swallows -- symbolizing the number of victims -- soaring over the ocean was unveiled.

The actual ceremony was simple: there was a reading of sacred texts, tributes read by five families, and a performer sang a song written by the wife of one of the victims.

"It was a beautiful seaside tribute," said Christopher Lara, a relative of a French victim. "This will become a place of contemplation."

Maarten van Sluys, spokesman for the Brazilian victims, told AFP after the ceremony that several people at the event wore black armbands "to silently protest the lack of transparency of the French authorities in the investigation."

AF 447 plunged into the Atlantic 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off Brazil on 1 June in still unclear circumstances.

The Airbus A330 was carrying 216 passengers and a crew of 12 on board. They came from 32 countries and included 72 French, 58 Brazilians and 26 Germans.

It was the worst disaster in Air France's 75-year history.

Some plane wreckage and 50 bodies were recovered, but an intensive search failed to find the "black boxes" which contain data that might explain the cause of the crash.

The plane's speed sensors were known to be malfunctioning, according to a series of automatic system failure messages sent just before the aircraft crashed, but it was not known to what extent that contributed to the accident.

AFP/Claire de Oliveira/Expatica

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