Brazil military search planes have found a three-mile path of debris in the Atlantic Ocean which reportedly prove that a missing Air France jet carrying 228 people crashed into the sea.
Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said Tuesday that the find "confirms that the plane went down in that area."
Military pilots spotted two areas of floating debris about 35 miles apart, 410 miles beyond the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha, which was located roughly along Flight 447's path from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, air force spokesman Jorge Amaral said.
"The locations where the objects were found are toward the right of the point where the last signal of the plane was emitted," Amaral said. "That suggests that it might have tried to make a turn, maybe to return to Fernando de Noronha, but that is just a hypothesis."
Also spotted were an airplane seat, small white pieces of debris, material that may be metallic, an orange buoy, a life jacket, and signs of oil and kerosene, which are used as jet fuel.
No bodies were spotted in the wreckage, nor any signs of life.
Brazilian ships are headed to the scene to collect the debris for closer examination, but are not expected to arrive until Wednesday. According to Brazilian TV, a radar plane detected some "electronic signs" in the area around 7 a.m. local time. A Hercules C-130 military plane then got a visual on the debris.
Searches in other areas of the Altantic Ocean are also taking place and are expected to go on through the night, according to Brazilian media reports. French and Spanish planes are also participating in the searches, taking off from the Senegal coast, but bad weather in the region has made the searches more difficult.
On Tuesday, two Americans on board the Air France flight were identified.
Anne DeBaillon Harris, 54, and Michael P. Harris, 60, are from a Houston suburb but were transferred to Rio for work in July, 2008. They were traveling to France for a training seminar, Ann's sister Mary Miley told KRIV.
Anne worked as a physical therapist for many years and Michael was a geologist for Devon Energy.
Also on Tuesday, the U.S. State Department confirmed that a third American, a female dual national was on board, but her identity was not immediately released.
The discovery of debris came more than 24 hours after the jet disappeared, with all feared dead.
Rescuers were still scanning a vast sweep of ocean extending from far off northeastern Brazil to waters off West Africa. The 4-year-old plane was last heard from at 10:14 p.m. EDT Sunday. If no survivors are found, it would be the world's worst aviation disaster since 2001.
Investigators on both sides of the ocean are trying to determine what brought the Airbus A330 down, with few clues to go on so far. Potential causes could include violently shifting winds and hail from towering thunderheads, lightning or some combination of other factors.
The crew gave no verbal messages of distress before the crash, but the plane's system sent an automatic message just before it disappeared, reporting lost pressure and electrical failure. The plane's cockpit and "black box" recorders could be thousands of feet below the surface.
The chance of finding survivors now "is very very small, even nonexistent," said the French minister overseeing transportation, Jean-Louis Borloo. "The race against the clock has begun" to find the plane's two black boxes, which emit signals up to 30 days.
Borloo called the A330 "one of the most reliable planes in the world" and said lightning alone, even from a fierce tropical storm, probably couldn't have brought down the plane.
"There really had to be a succession of extraordinary events to be able to explain this situation," Borloo said on RTL radio Tuesday.
French police were studying passenger lists and maintenance records, and preparing to take DNA from passengers' relatives to help identify any bodies.
France's Defense Minister Herve Morin said "we have no signs so far" of terrorism, but all hypotheses must be studied.
Alain Bouillard, who led the probe into the crash of the Concorde in July 2000, was put in charge of France's accident investigation team.
President Barack Obama told French television stations the United States is ready to do everything necessary to find out what happened.
On board the flight were 61 French citizens, 58 Brazilians, 26 Germans, nine Chinese and nine Italians. A lesser number of citizens from 27 other countries also were on the passenger list, including Anne and Michael Harris.
Among them were three young Irish doctors, returning from two-week vacation in Brazil. Aisling Butler's father John paid tribute to his 26-year-old daughter, from Roscrea, County Tipperary.
"She was a truly wonderful, exciting girl. She never flunked an exam in her life — nailed every one of them — and took it all in her stride," he said.
The Airbus A330-200 was cruising normally at 35,000 feet and 522 mph just before it disappeared nearly four hours into the flight. No trouble was reported as the plane left radar contact, beyond Brazil's Fernando de Noronha archipelago.
But just north of the equator, a line of towering thunderstorms loomed. Bands of extremely turbulent weather stretched across the Atlantic toward Africa.
France's junior minister for transport, Dominique Bussereau, said the plane sent "a kind of outburst" of automated messages just before it disappeared, "which means something serious happened, as eventually the circuits switched off."
The pilot had 11,000 hours of flying experience, including 1,700 hours flying this aircraft.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said that if the debris is confirmed to be part of Flight 447, "This will allow us to better determine the search zone."
"We are in a race against the clock in extremely difficult weather conditions and in a zone where depths reach up to 7,000 meters," he told lawmakers in the lower house of French parliament Tuesday.
The legislature held a moment of silence to honor the victims and the French soccer team will wear black arm bands and hold a moment of silence ahead of a match against Nigeria on Tuesday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.