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SÃO PAULO, Brazil — The biographies of passengers aboard the disappeared Air France airliner likely will serve as a tragic testament to Brazil’s rising importance in global business.Although Brazilian and French authorities have yet to release a detailed passenger manifest, the list is expected to read like a roster of European and Brazilian blue-chip companies, whose executives regularly packed the business- and first-class sections of the trans-Atlantic flight. 

Already, some firms, such as French tire maker Michelin SA, have begun confirming their executives were aboard the Airbus A330-200. German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp Steel AG said that Erich Heine, chairman of its Brazil unit, was aboard. 

Brazil-based Vale SA, the world’s biggest iron-ore producer, said one of its senior executives was aboard. Norwegian oil giant StatoilHydro ASA said three employees — two Brazilians and a Norwegian — were on the plane. 

Most of the passengers were Brazilian and French, authorities said. Other countries with big contingencies include Germany, with 26 passengers. China — which in March surpassed the U.S. as Brazil’s biggest trade partner — had nine citizens on the jet. 

The State Department said two Americans were among the passengers; no names were released, according to the Associated Press. Spokesman Robert Wood said that U.S. consular officials are in contact with the family members of the American victims and will work with authorities to obtain more information. 

Not all of the passengers were on the plane for business. Rio de Janeiro is a major global tourist destination, and many passengers had likely spent the previous days sunning on its famous beaches. The passengers included seven children and one baby. 

Also among those feared dead were figures from Brazil’s elite. Pedro Luiz de Orléans e Bragança, a 25-year-old relative of Dom Pedro II, the Portuguese royal and emperor of Brazil deposed in 1889, was on board, a family spokesman said, as was a senior official in the Rio city government. 

Relatives of passengers began gathering at the Galeão International Airport in the early hours of the morning, seeking information. Soon, officials arrived to collect them and move them to a private location. 

“Hope is the last thing to die, but I am conscious of the reality,” Valdir Possamai, the father of a 34-year-old Brazilian tax auditor who was on the flight, told Brazil’s Globo news. “Feelings of grief are there, but not guilt. She was living her dream.” 

Long a major tourist destination, Brazil has become a draw for European, Asian and American executives seeking to profit from its dramatic export-driven growth. Brazil’s middle class have become voracious consumers of things like Renault SA’s autos. France’s Carrefour SA is among the country’s biggest retailers. 

Brazil’s bold plans to overhaul its rail, port and other infrastructure have made it an important market for big global construction and services firms amid the global economic downturn. 

France was pushing harder than most. Brazil and France dubbed 2009 “The year of France in Brazil” — a cultural exchange of musicians, artists and designers launched in Rio in April. 

France’s Alstom SA this week is pushing hard to clinch a concession to build Brazil’s first high-speed train. 

Write to John Lyons at 

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