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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (CNN) -- A 12-mile oil slick near where an Air France jet crashed Monday into the Atlantic Ocean indicates the plane likely didn't break up until it hit the water, Brazil's defense minister said Wednesday.
If true, that would argue against an in-flight explosion as the cause of the crash of Air France Flight 447, Defense Minister Nelson Jobim told reporters.
But Robert Francis, former vice chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, said the question of determining where a plane broke up "is a very difficult one to deal with." He told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" that "there are lots of things that cause a plane to go out of control."
He added that extremely strong winds are not unusual near Brazil. Pilots who fly over that part of the world keep track of radar and "are very, very wary about the weather as they go back and forth down in that area."
Jobim said currents had strewn the debris widely and that the search area had been expanded to 300 square miles.
Was it a lightning strike, an electrical failure, or violent turbulence? As possible debris of Air France 447 surfaced 600 miles off the coast of Brazil on Tuesday morning, The Daily Beast tracked down seven expert theories on the cause for the mysterious crash that killed all 228 on board.
2. Violent Turbulence
We know that Flight 447 encountered heavy turbulence associated with a thunderstorm before losing signal. At 4:14 a.m. Paris time, the plane released an automatic message that it had suffered an electrical problem and lost cabin pressure. But what caused that? It's possible that the plane flew into a fierce tropical storm over the Atlantic Ocean, The Washington Post reports, but pilots are trained to go around tropical storms—never through them. And the pilot of Flight 447 must have known that: He had clocked more than 11,000 hours in the air—including 1,100 hours on the Airbus jets. According to a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather, the thunderstorms in that part of the Atlantic Ocean towered up to the 50,000 feet that night—which could mean that the plane flew into the most treacherous part of the storm. Thunderstorms at that altitude, the Times of London reports, can have the “energy of nuclear explosions.” According to Pierre Henri Gourgeon, chief executive of Air France-KLM: “Lightning alone is not enough to explain the loss of this plane, and turbulence alone is not enough. It is always a combination of factors… A completely unexpected situation occurred on board the aircraft.”