PARIS (AFP) - An Air France jet carrying 228 people from Rio de Janeiro to Paris is believed to have crashed into the Atlantic on Monday after suffering an electrical failure in a fierce storm. The prospects of finding any survivors are very slim, President Nicolas Sarkozy said at Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris after meeting shocked family members. Its a catastrophe the likes of which Air France has never seen. Air France said the Airbus A330-200 jet was probably hit by lightning. The Brazilian and French air forces sent out search planes to scour a vast area of ocean, but officials also held out little hope of finding survivors. If, as expected, it is confirmed that all 228 people were killed, it would mark the worst loss of life in Air Frances history and civil aviations worst accidental disaster for more than a decade. We are without a doubt faced with an aviation catastrophe. The entire company is thinking of the families and shares their pain, Air France chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told reporters. At Charles de Gaulle airport, tearful relatives were ushered into a private area to await news and be counselled by a team of psychologists. Air France addresses its sincere condolences to the families and friends of the passengers and crew members who were on board flight number AF 447, the airline said in a statement on its website. None of the airliners emergency beacons, which are trackable by satellite unless they sink deep into the ocean, have been detected, suggesting it crashed violently, said Philippe Hazanne of the French space studies agency. French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said hijacking had been ruled out and that the plane had probably had some kind of accident. Theres nothing on Spanish radar, nothing on Moroccan radar, nothing on French radar. We can seriously envisage the worst, Borloo, whose portolio includes transport, told AFP. Air France said that among the 216 passengers, there are 126 men, 82 women, seven children and a baby. The crew was made up of 12 members, including nine cabin crew. In Rio, Air France spokesman Jorge Asuncao said there were 80 Brazilian passengers, 73 French, 18 Germans, nine Italians, six Americans, five Chinese, four Hungarians, two Spanish, two British, two Moroccans and two Irish. There were also nationals, one each, from Angola, Argentina, Belgium, Iceland, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, he said. Flight AF 447 hit fierce turbulence at about 0200 GMT Monday about four hours after it left Rio, and 14 minutes later sent an automatic error message reporting a fault in an electrical circuit, Gourgeon said in Paris. The most likely thing is that the plane was hit by lightning. The plane was in a stormy area with strong turbulence, which provoked problems, said Francois Brousse, Air Frances director of communications. The Brazilian air force said its planes had scrambled to search for the jet off its northeast coast. A French military reconnaissance plane also flew out of Senegal to take part in the search. France also asked the US military to use its network of spy satellites and listening stations to help the search effort, defence ministry officials said. Airbus said the A330 has a good safety record - there have never been fatalities on a commercial flight - but in 1994 one crashed during a test flight in southern France, killing seven people on board. Air France shares slipped after the news. Last week the airline announced its first net loss since it merged with Dutch airline KLM in 2003.