A search and recovery operation has resumed in the southern French Alps after Tuesday’s crash of a Germanwings plane with 150 people on board, BBC reports. Officials warn the operation could last for days in a remote mountain ravine between Digne and Barcelonnette. The leaders of Germany, France and Spain are due to visit the crash site. The Airbus A320 – flight 4U 9525 – from Barcelona to Duesseldorf crashed after an eight-minute rapid descent, officials say. There were no survivors.
Officials believe 67 of the 144 passengers were German citizens, including 16 pupils returning from an exchange trip. A day of mourning was being held at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium school in Haltern-am-See, north-west Germany, where the pupils were from. More than 40 passengers were believed to be Spanish and the flight was also carrying citizens of Australia, Japan, Colombia, Turkey, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said it was “sadly likely” that some British nationals were on board.
The plane’s cockpit voice recorder – recovered by a helicopter team on Tuesday – was damaged but could still provide information, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. Finding the second “black box” – the flight data recorder – will be a key aim of Wednesday’s search operation. A team of police officers spent the night on the mountain, securing the site.
French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy are expected to visit the crash scene later. Mr Rajoy has already declared three days of national mourning in Spain. Bereaved relatives are also expected to visit the scene on Wednesday. The mayor of Seyne-les-Alpes, the town nearest the crash site, said local families were offering to host them.
Footage shot from a helicopter on Tuesday showed plane parts scattered on the rocky mountainside. “The site is a picture of horror,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after being flown over the ravine. “Everything is pulverised. The largest pieces of debris are the size of a small car,” Gilbert Sauvan, president of the general council Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, told the Associated Press. Lufthansa said its staff around the world would hold a minute’s silence on Wednesday morning.
Germanwings, a low-cost airline owned by Germany’s main carrier Lufthansa, said some crew members were unfit for service on Wednesday “due to emotional distress”. It said one flight was being cancelled but remaining flights would be according to schedule. The plane began descending one minute after it reached its cruising height and continued to lose altitude for eight minutes, Germanwings managing director Thomas Winkelmann told reporters.
He said the aircraft lost contact with French air traffic controllers at 10:53 (09:53 GMT) at an altitude of about 6,000ft. The plane, a single-aisle passenger jet popular for short- and medium-haul flights, did not send out a distress signal, officials said. The White House has said there is no evidence so far of a terror attack. A Lufthansa official said they were assuming for the time being that the crash had been caused by an accident.