More on missing Air France flight with ties to Norway

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The number of persons with close ties to Norway who were on board a missing Air France flight continued to grow this week. The flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, which disappeared after taking off from Rio Sunday evening, was frequently used by travelers between Brazil and Norway.

Flags flew at half-mast at Norway’s largest company, StatoilHydro, following confirmation that three of its employees were on board the missing Air France flight. At least 10 persons on board the flight are now confirmed to have had close ties to Norway, either through employment, residence or citizenship.

StatoilHydro said that one of its company lawyers Kristian Berg Andersen, age 37 of Oslo, was on his way back to Norway for business meetings, accompanied by StatoilHydro colleagues Marcela Pellizon, 29, and Gustavo Peretti, 30. Andersen is a Norwegian citizen while Pellizon and Peretti are Brazilians, all working in StatoilHydro’s office in Rio.

“We have learned that three of our people were on the flight with great sadness,” said StatoilHydro Chief Executive Helge Lund. “A tragedy like this makes a deep impression on us as colleagues and managers. Our thoughts and sympathies are with the next of kin.”

StatoilHydro said a relative of an employee at the Brazilian office was also on the plane. “We only have 110 employees in Brazil and everyone is affected,” said StatoilHydro’s information director Ola Morten Aanestad.

He described Andersen, who has been living in Rio with his Norwegian wife and two children, as a “highly valued colleague” who played a key role in Statoil’s acquisition of the Peregrino oil field off Brazil.

More missing from Norway

Two other Norwegian citizens, 58-year-old Karsten Moholt from Hordaland in western Norway and his 35-year-old son Karsten Alexander Moholt were also on the flight. They ran Karsten Moholt AS and were in the process of expanding operations to Brazil. Aanestad said the Moholts’ company had done business with Statoil for 35 years and is “highly respected.”

Newspaper Aftenposten reported that also among the missing is Helge Gustafsson, age 44, an Icelandic citizen who worked for FMC Technologies from FMC’s base at Ågotnes near Bergen. He was reportedly on his way from work in Brazil to a job in Angola when the flight from Rio to Paris disappeared.

An 11-year-old boy with both British and Norwegian passports was also on the flight along with two Swedish citizens who worked for Norwegian firms. Laura Rahal, age 27, has been living in Norway for the past three years and worked as a civil engineer at Hamworthy in Asker. Christine Badre Schnabi, age 34, who worked for Innovation Norway in Rio, was also on the flight along with her five-year-old son.

Air France flight #447 was bound for Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris when it lost contact with air traffic controllers and disappeared off the radar shortly after taking off from Rio Sunday evening local time. It remained unclear Tuesday what happened to the flight. It’s believed to have encountered severe turbulence somewhere over the Fernando de Noronha islands, about 350 kilometers off the coast of Brazil, and may have been struck by lightning.

Aviation experts noted, however, that the modern Airbus A330 is built to tolerate both lightning and severe turbulence. There were reports of a short-circuit on board the aircraft. Military aircraft searched all day on Monday and through the night, with no signs of wreckage until Tuesday afternoon Oslo time. Officials said search efforts were difficult because of the depth of seas in the area where the jet is believed to have crashed.

‘Tragic accident’

The flight had 228 persons on board, including 216 passengers and 12 crew members. StatoilHydro officials said they were doing what they could to support their employees’ families and were cooperating closely with authorities both in Norway and Brazil.

“Naturally, the Brazilian organization is particularly affected by this tragic accident,” Lund said. “Our attention in now focused on support and assisting families and colleagues in Brazil as well as in Norway.”

StatoilHydro has full ownership of the large Peregrino oil field located about 85 kilometers off the Brazilian coast, and also has seven offshore exploration licenses.

Around 400 Norwegians live in Rio, including the sister of King Harald, Princess Ragnhild, and the community was shocked by the accident. “We’ve all traveled on that route,” one local resident told Norwegian Broadcsting (NRK), adding that “nearly everyone” knew someone now listed as missing. The Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Rio held special services Monday for those who wanted to gather and seek support.