(Corrects paragraph 19 to show the plane was travelling at 453 knots, not 453 km per hour)
* Air France spokesman says plane crashed
* No news of the 228 people on board
* Military planes from Brazil, Africa hunt for wreckage
(Updates with new details from Air France, background)
By Estelle Shirbon
PARIS, June 1 (Reuters) - An Air France plane with 228 people on board was presumed to have crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on Monday after hitting heavy turbulence on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.
Air France (AIRF.PA) said the Airbus flew into stormy weather four hours after its scheduled take-off from the Brazilian city and shortly afterwards sent an automatic message reporting electrical faults.
Company spokesman Francois Brousse said several of the plane’s mechanisms had malfunctioned, preventing it from making contact with air traffic controllers.
“It is probably a combination of circumstances that could have led to the crash,” he said.
The airliner might have been hit by lightning, he said.
The Brazilian air force said the plane was far out over the the sea when it went missing. Military planes took off from both Brazil and Africa to hunt for it.
Flight AF 447 left Rio de Janeiro on Sunday at 7 p.m. (2200 GMT) and had been expected to land at Paris’s Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport on Monday at 11:15 a.m. (0915 GMT).
The carrier said 216 passengers were on board, including seven children and one baby, and 12 crew members. Air France said the pilots were highly experienced.
Tearful relatives and friends were led away by airport staff after they arrived at Roissy expecting to greet the passengers.
About 20 relatives of passengers on board the flight arrived at Rio’s Galeao airport on Monday morning seeking information after hearing news of its disappearance.
Bernardo Souza, who said his brother and sister-in-law were on the flight, complained he had received no details from Air France.
“I had to come to the airport but when I arrived I just found an empty counter,” he said. “With a lack of information, it is even more worrying.”
Senior French government minister Jean-Louis Borloo ruled out the possibility of a hijacking.
“It’s an awful tragedy,” he told France Info radio.
If no survivors are found it will be the worst loss of life involving an Air France plane in the firm’s 75-year history.
The jet’s last known location was unclear and Brazil’s air force said it had no contact with the plane after 0133 GMT.
Brazilian air force planes had taken off from the island of Fernando de Noronha off Brazil’s northeast coast to look for the Air France jet, a Brazilian spokesman said. The Brazilian navy said it had sent three ships to help in the search operation.
Jean-Christophe Rufin, France’s ambassador in the west African country of Senegal, told French iTele that aircraft had also taken off from there to search for the missing Airbus.
Brazil’s air force said that when the plane left its radar area at 0148 GMT it had been flying normally at an altitude of 35,000 feet and at 453 knots. It failed to make contact at the next attempt half an hour later at 0220.
An air traffic controller at ASECNA in Dakar, which covers Francophone Africa, said they did not take control of AF 447.
The plane was an Airbus 330-200 EAD.PA powered with General Electric (GE.N) engines. If the plane is confirmed to have crashed, it would be the first time an A330 has been lost during an operational airline flight.
Air France said the plane had 18,870 flight hours on the clock and went into service in April 2005. Its last underwent maintenance in a hangar in April this year.
The last major incident involving an Air France plane was in July 2000 when one of its Concorde supersonic airliners crashes just after taking off from Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, bound for New York.
All 109 people on board were killed along with at least four on the ground.
In August 2005, an Air France Airbus burst into flames after shooting off the runway at Toronto airport following a storm. No one died in the crash. (Additional reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey, Gerard Bon, Astrid Wendlandt and Tim Hepher in Paris, Pedro Fonseca in Rio; editing by Crispian Balmer and Angus MacSwan)