Three young Irish doctors among 228 on fatal flight


THREE YOUNG Irishwomen, all recently qualified doctors, are among the 228 people who were on the Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris that disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean yesterday.

An Irishman was also on the flight list, but it was thought last night that he did not board the aircraft.

Aisling Butler, from Roscrea, Co Tipperary, Jane Deasy from Dublin and Eithne Walls from Ballygowan, Co Down, were aged between 26 and 29 and were graduates of Trinity College Dublin. The three friends graduated from medical school at TCD in 2007 and registered with the Medical Council last year. They are believed to have been returning from a holiday in Brazil.

Press Association reported last night that Dr Butler’s father, John believed his daughter was dead. “We know Aisling is gone, we are sure of that,” he said. “It is just about trying to live now, I have to live for my wife and my only other daughter...”

Mr Butler said his daughter, who celebrated her 26th birthday just over two weeks ago, was doing an internship in Tallaght Hospital, Dublin, and was due to move to St James’ Hospital in Dublin next month.

“She was a truly wonderful, exciting girl. I just can’t describe how we feel,” he said.

Dr Walls was a dancer with Riverdance and performed on Broadway before beginning six years of medical studies at TCD. While a medical student, Dr Walls continued dancing as part of Riverdance’s “flying squad”, performing in China, Qatar, Germany and France, and participating as a fulltime cast member in Riverdance’s 2004 summer run at the Gaiety.

In a statement, President McAleese said her “thoughts and prayers” were “with the Irish families and the families of everyone on board at this very difficult time”.

The Taoiseach said the Government wanted to express its solidarity with families who are anxiously waiting for news of loved ones.

Almost nothing was known last night about the circumstances of the disappearance of Air France flight 447. French television reported the aircraft carried 61 French citizens and 58 Brazilians, while an Air France spokesman in Rio de Janeiro spoke of 80 Brazilians, 73 French, 18 Germans, nine Italians, six Americans, five Chinese, four Hungarians, two Spanish, two Britons, two Moroccans and individual passengers from 13 other countries. Twelve of the 228 victims were Air France crew. Wire agencies reported there were 126 men, 82 women and eight children, including a baby, on board.

At terminal two of Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, families of the victims were told the plane would never arrive. President Nicolas Sarkozy came to offer condolences.

“The chances of finding survivors are minute. It’s a tragic incident,” Mr Sarkozy said.

Flight 447 took off from Rio de Janeiro shortly after midnight Paris time. A French professor of endrocrinology, Claude Jaffio, and his wife Amina said they “fought tooth and nail” to get on the flight but were turned away because it was full.

The twin-engine aircraft flew north, along the Brazilian coast, for three hours. The pilot last spoke with Brazilian air traffic control at Recife, in the northeast of the country, around 3.30am French time, shortly after which the plane encountered severe turbulence.

At 4.14am, the aircraft transmitted an automatic message saying it had experienced failure in an electrical circuit. There were no further messages, not even a Mayday or distress signal.

Throughout the day, reports variously placed the missing aircraft off the coast of Brazil or North Africa. Wreckage and victims could be anywhere in a 2,000km area and the black box may be at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. France has asked the Pentagon to provide satellite intelligence to help locate the plane.

French officials contradicted each other in speculating on the cause of the plane’s disappearance. François Brousse, the director of communication at Air France, said it was likely the aircraft was “struck by lightning”. Jean-Louis Borloo, the minister for transport, said the hypothesis of a hijacking was “clearly excluded”. But his junior minister, Dominique Bussereau, urged caution, saying: “For now, we know strictly nothing. Any hypothesis would be false and erroneous.”

The accident is the biggest disaster in the history of French civil aviation.

The Airbus entered service in 2005. Its last hangar maintenance check was carried out on April 16th. Air France said the pilot had 11,000 hours of flying experience.