JET CRASHES IN FRENCH ALPS WITH 150 ON BOARD; OFFICAL SAYS AIRLINE ASSUMES IT WAS AN ACCIDENT
Lori Hinnant And Claude Paris
SEYNE-LES-ALPES, France - A Germanwings jet carrying 150 people from Barcelona to Duesseldorf slammed into a remote section of the French Alps on Tuesday, sounding like an avalanche as it scattered pulverized debris across a rocky mountain and down its steep ravines. All aboard were assumed killed.
The pilots sent out no distress call and had lost radio contact with their control centre, France's aviation authority said, deepening the mystery over the A320's mid-flight crash after a surprise 8-minute descent.
"The site is a picture of horror. The grief of the families and friends is immeasurable. We must now stand together. We are united in our great grief," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement after being flown over the crash scene and briefed by French authorities.
The crash left officials and families across Europe reeling in shock. Sobbing, grieving relatives at both airports were led away by airport workers and crisis counsellors. One German town was rent with sorrow after losing 16 high school students coming back from an exchange program in Spain.
"This is pretty much the worst thing you can imagine," a visibly rattled Haltern Mayor Bodo Klimpel said at a hastily called press conference.
As helicopters were deployed to reach the crash site, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged reporters not to speculate on the cause.
"We still don't know much beyond the bare information on the flight, and there should be no speculation on the cause of the crash," she said in Berlin. "All that will be investigated thoroughly."
Lufthansa Vice-President Heike Birlenbach told reporters in Barcelona that for now "we say it is an accident."
In Washington, the White House said American officials were in contact with their French, Spanish and German counterparts.
"There is no indication of a nexus to terrorism at this time," said U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.
Photos of the crash site showed scattered white flecks across a stony mountain and several larger airplane body sections with windows. French officials said a helicopter crew that landed briefly in the area saw no signs of life.
"Everything is pulverized. The largest pieces of debris are the size of a small car. No one can access the site from the ground," Gilbert Sauvan, president of the general council, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, told The Associated Press.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a black box had been located at the crash site and "will be immediately investigated." He did not say whether it was a data recorder or a cockpit voice recorder.
Germanwings is low-cost carrier owned by Lufthansa, Germany's biggest airline, and serves mostly European destinations. Tuesday's crash was its first involving passenger deaths since it began operating in 2002. The Germanwings logo, normally maroon and yellow, was blacked out on its Twitter feed.
Germanwings said Flight 9525 carried 144 passengers, including two babies, and six crew members. Officials believe 67 Germans were on board, including the 16 high school students from Haltern and two opera singers.
Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu says German contralto Maria Radner was aboard the crashed plane along with her husband and baby. The opera house in Duesseldorf said bass baritone Oleg Bryjak, was also on the plane.
Dutch officials said one citizen was killed.
The plane left Barcelona Airport at 10:01 a.m., then began descending again shortly after reaching its cruising height of 38,000 feet, Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann told reporters in Cologne. The descent lasted eight minutes.
Eric Heraud of the French Civil Aviation Authority said the Germanwings plane lost radio contact with a control centre at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, but "never declared a distress alert itself." He said the combination of loss of radio contract and the plane's quick descent prompted the control centre to declare a distress situation.
"We cannot say at the moment why our colleague went into the descent, and so quickly, and without previously consulting air traffic control," said Germanwings' director of flight operations, Stefan-Kenan Scheib.
The plane crashed at an altitude of about 2,000 metres (6,550 feet) at Meolans-Revels, near the popular ski resort of Pra Loup. The site is 700 kilometres (430 miles) south-southeast of Paris.
"It was a deafening noise. I thought it was an avalanche, although it sounded slightly different. It was short noise and lasted just a few seconds," Sandrine Boisse, the president of the Pra Loup tourism office, told the AP.
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told BFM television he expected "an extremely long and extremely difficult" search-and-rescue operation because of the area's remoteness. The weather in the area deteriorated Tuesday afternoon, with a chilly rain falling.
Winkelmann said the pilot, whom he did not name, had more than 10 years' experience working for Germanwings and its parent airline Lufthansa.
The aircraft was delivered to Lufthansa in 1991, had approximately 58,300 flight hours in some 46,700 flights, Airbus said. The plane underwent a routine check in Duesseldorf on Monday, and its last regular full check took place in the summer of 2013.
Winkelmann said teams from Airbus, Germanwings, Lufthansa and Lufthansa's technical division had arrived in France and were on their way to the crash site.
The municipal sports hall of Seyne-les-Alpes, 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the Val d'Allos ski resort, was being set up to take bodies from the crash.
The safest part of a flight is normally when the plane is at cruising elevation. Just 10 per cent of fatal accidents occur at that point, according to a safety analysis by Boeing. In contrast, takeoff and the initial climb accounts for 14 per cent of crashes and final approach and landing accounts for 47 per cent.
In Paris, French President Francois Hollande called the crash "a tragedy on our soil."
The last time a passenger jet crashed in France was the 2000 Concorde accident, which left 113 dead — 109 in the plane and four on the ground.
Merkel spoke with both Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy about the crash, immediately cancelling all other appointments.
"The crash ... is a shock that plunges us in Germany, the French and the Spanish into deep sorrow," said Merkel, who planned to travel to the region Wednesday.
The A320 plane is a workhorse of modern aviation. The single-aisle, twin-engine jet is used to connect cities between one and five hours apart. It is certified to fly up to 39,000 feet but it can begin to experience problems as low as 37,000 feet.
The A320 family also has a good safety record, with just 0.14 fatal accidents per million takeoffs, according to a Boeing safety analysis.
16 GERMAN 10TH-GRADE STUDENTS RETURNING FROM EXCHANGE, 2 OPERA SINGERS AMONG CRASH VICTIMS
Martin Meissner And Kirsten Grieshaber
HALTERN, Germany - A stunned German town mourned 16 students who went down aboard Germanwings Flight 9525 on their way home Tuesday from a Spanish exchange, while the opera world grieved for two singers who were returning from performing in Barcelona — one of them with her baby.
"This is surely the blackest day in the history of our town," a visibly shaken Mayor Bodo Klimpel said after the western town of Haltern was shocked by news that 16 students from the local high school and two of their teachers had been on the plane. They had just spent a week in Spain.
Some hugged and cried in front of the Joseph Koenig High School, where the 10th graders had studied, and put candles on its steps. Others changed their Facebook cover photos to black, with the simple message "Haltern mourns; In memory of the victims of the March 24, 2015 plane crash."
"You can feel a state of shock everywhere," Klimpel said at a hastily called press conference at city hall. "This is pretty much the worst thing you can imagine."
The town of 38,000 lies about 80 kilometres (50 miles) northeast of the plane's destination of Duesseldorf.
Officials confirmed that the school group was among the 150 people on board the plane. The victims are believed to have included a total of 67 Germans, including an opera singer; many Spaniards; business travellers en route to a trade fair in Cologne and one person from the Netherlands.
The German students and their teachers spent a week in Llinars del Valles and were seen off at the town's train station for their early morning trip to the airport by their Spanish host families, said Pere Grive, the deputy mayor of the town of 9,000 about a 45-minute drive from Barcelona.
German and Spanish students from the two towns have been doing such exchanges for at least 15 years and the Spanish students had spent time in Germany in December.
"We are completely shattered and the students are also devastated," Grive told The Associated Press.
In Haltern, the high school was going to be kept open Wednesday but no classes were planned.
"There will be an opportunity for the students to talk about the terrible event," Klimpel said.
Also among the passengers were two German singers who had been in Barcelona to perform in Richard Wagner's "Siegfried" at the city's Gran Teatre del Liceu — bass baritone Oleg Bryjak, a member since 1996 of the ensemble at Duesseldorf's Deutsche Oper am Rhein opera house, and Duesseldorf-born contralto Maria Radner.
"We have lost a great performer and a great person in Oleg Bryjak. We are stunned," said Christoph Meyer, director of Deutsche Oper am Rhein.
Radner took the Germanwings flight with her husband and baby, Liceu director of communications Joan Corbera said. He added that the theatre's employees will hold two minutes of silence on Wednesday in the singers' honour.
Spanish authorities were still trying to determine how many of their citizens were on board.
Business travellers included Carles Milla, the managing director for a small Spanish food machinery company, his office said, adding that he had been on his way to a food technology fair in Cologne. Two employees of Barcelona's trade fair organization were also on the flight.
At Barcelona airport, where the plane began its journey, psychologists helped grieving relatives who were quickly escorted to a secure area.
Catalonia's regional leader, Artur Mas, said the government would arrange transportation for families who want to view the crash site but did not say when the visit would take place.
At Barcelona airport, passenger Marcel Hemmeldr said felt "very strange" to check in for Germanwings' evening flight to Duesseldorf.
"The people were standing at the same place where we're standing now ... now they're not there anymore. So it's a strange feeling, a really strange feeling," he said. "I feel sorry for everybody in Germany. All the people there who have lost some family members."
THE LATEST: OFFICAL: SEARCH FOR PLANE THAT CRASHED IN FRENCH ALPS CALLED OFF FOR THE NIGHT
9:00 p.m. (2000 GMT, 4:00 p.m. EDT)
French authorities have called off the search for the remains of a Germanwings airplane that crashed into the French Alps with 150 people aboard, after night fell on the hard-to-reach area.
Lt. Col. Simon-Pierre Delannoy of the regional police rescue service said on BFM television that the conditions for the search had become too difficult.
Helicopters stopped flying over the area at nightfall.
The complex search operation was expected to resume Wednesday morning.
The Airbus A320 was travelling from Barcelona to Duesseldorf when it crashed Tuesday on a mountainside near Meolans-Revels and the popular Pra Loup ski resort.
8:20 p.m. (1920 GMT, 3:20 p.m. EDT)
A Spanish opera house says a second singer, German contralto Maria Radner along with her husband and baby, were among the 150 victims of the plane crash in the French Alps.
Earlier Tuesday, an opera house in Duesseldorf said bass baritone Oleg Bryjak was on the plane which crashed on its way from Barcelona in Spain to Duesseldorf, Germany.
Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu said Radner, like Bryjak, had performed in its production of Richard Wagner's "Siegfried."
7:55 p.m. (1855 GMT, 2:55 p.m. EDT)
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says the crash site is "a picture of horror."
After being flown over the crash scene and briefed by French authorities, he said: "The grief of the families and friends is immeasurable. We must now stand together. We are united in our great grief."
He was also quoted by his ministry as thanking the French for their "exemplary" help.
The Germanwings flight crashed in France on its way from Barcelona, Spain, to Duesseldorf, Germany.
7:35 p.m. (1835 GMT, 2:35 p.m. EDT)
Germany's soccer federation says the national team, the World Cup holder, will play with black armbands when it takes on Australia in a friendly Wednesday.
It said there will be a minute of silence before kick-off for the 150 people who died when a Germanwings plane crashed in the French Alps en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.
Federation President Wolfgang Niersbach said "this overshadows everything."
"We owe it the victims and their families to commiserate as a soccer family."
7:05 p.m. (1805 GMT, 2:05 p.m EDT)
A Lufthansa vice-president says the company is treating the crash of a Germanwings jet in France that carried 150 people as an accident for "the time being."
Heike Birlenbach told reporters in Barcelona that for now "we say it is an accident. There is nothing more we can say right now."
She also said that the plane, bound for Duesseldorf in Germany, took off from Barcelona 30 minutes late Tuesday but did not know what caused the delay.
The Airbus A320 was inspected by Lufthansa's technical team on Monday.
Germanwings is a low-cost carrier owned by Lufthansa.
6:50 p.m. (1750 GMT, 1:50 p.m EDT)
An opera house in Duesseldorf says bass baritone Oleg Bryjak was among the 150 people onboard the plane that crashed in the French Alps.
Officials believe all onboard were likely killed when the plane crashed on its way from Barcelona in Spain to Duesseldorf, Germany.
The Deutsche Oper am Rhein said Bryjak was on his way back from Barcelona, where he had sung Alberich in Richard Wagner's "Siegfried" at the Gran Teatre del Liceu.
Director Christoph Meyer said that "we have lost a great performer and a great person in Oleg Bryjak. We are stunned."
6:30 p.m. (1730 GMT, 1:30 p.m EDT)
A French Interior Ministry official says the black box has been recovered from the site in the French Alps where a plane carrying 150 people crashed.
The official, who was not authorized to speak about the crash publicly, confirmed to The Associated Press that the black box was in hand.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve earlier Tuesday said the black box had been located and would be handed to investigators in coming hours.
Officials believe all onboard were likely killed when the plane crashed on its way from Barcelona in Spain to Duesseldorf, Germany.
5:50 p.m. (1650 GMT, 12:50 p.m. EDT)
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says a black box has been located at the site in the French Alps where a plane crashed while travelling from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.
Cazeneuve, speaking from the Alps region, said the black box had been located and would ultimately help in the investigation into the cause of the crash Tuesday.
It wasn't immediately clear if the box had been recovered.
Officials believe all 150 people onboard the plane were likely killed when it crashed.
5:25 p.m. (1625 GMT, 12:25 p.m. EDT)
A spokesman for the French Civil Aviation authority says the plane that crashed in the French Alps with 150 people on board never sent out a distress signal.
Eric Heraud said the plane lost radio contact at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, but "never declared a distress alert itself."
He said it was the combination of loss of radio contract with control and the plane's descent which prompted the control service to declare a distress.
Heraud said six investigators from the Bureau of Accident Investigations, or BEA, were en route from Paris and would be at the crash site by evening. One investigator from the region was already present, he said.
Officials believe all onboard were likely killed when the plane crashed on its way from Barcelona in Spain to Duesseldorf, Germany.
5:15 p.m. (1615 GMT, 12:15 p.m. EDT)
The German North Rhine-Westphalia state Education Ministry says a group of 16 tenth-graders and their two teachers were on board the Germanwings plane that crashed in France.
Ministry spokeswoman Barbara Loecherbach told The Associated Press on Tuesday they had confirmed the school group from a high school in the city of Haltern, northeast of Duesseldorf, were on board the plane.
Haltern Mayor Bodo Klimpel told reporters at a press conference "this is, of course, the worst thing you could imagine."
4:55 p.m. (1555 GMT, 11:55 a.m. EDT)
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says 10 helicopters and a military plane have been mobilized to the site in the French Alps where a Germanwings plane crashed en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.
At a news conference at Seyne les Alpes, Cazeneuve left open the possibility that some of the 150 people onboard could have survived.
He said "the violence of the shock leaves little hope," but refused to be categorical.
A photo of the crash scene from La Provence newspaper showed scattered flecks across a mountain and several larger pieces which appear to be part of the body of the plane, with five windows seen on one and four on another.
4:40 p.m. (1540 GMT, 11:40 a.m. EDT)
A German official says a high school group returning from an exchange in Spain was on board the Germanwings plane that crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 people onboard.
The school they had visited, about 45 minutes from Barcelona, told The Associated Press that 16 students from the town of Haltern in Germany had been on a weeklong exchange that ended Tuesday.
North Rhine-Westphalia state Education Minister Sylvia Loerhmann said Tuesday that "we know that the school group boarded the plane," the dpa news agency reported.
Local police said they are still waiting on official confirmation the students had been killed, but have already sent staff to the school to assist students and teachers. The school refused to comment.
4:20 p.m. (1520 GMT, 11:20 a.m. EDT)
A spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council says there is no indication the plane crash in the French Alps was the result of terrorism.
Bernadette Meehan said in a statement Tuesday "there is no indication of a nexus to terrorism at this time."
The White House says American officials have been in touch with French, German and Spanish officials to offer assistance.
Officials say all 150 people onboard were likely killed when the plane crashed in the French Alps Tuesday as it was flying from Barcelona in Spain to Duesseldorf, Germany.
4:05 p.m. (1505 GMT, 11:05 a.m. EDT)
A local lawmaker says the debris from the plane crash in the French Alps that killed all 150 people on board is spread over 100-200 metres (110-220 yards).
Gilbert Sauvan, president of the general council of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, told the AP that "everything is pulverized."
He said the largest pieces of debris are the size of a small car.
Sauvan said no one can access the site from the ground, but that helicopters are circling the area to get information and 500 firefighters and gendarmes are in the area.
3:50 p.m. (1450 GMT, 10:50 a.m. EDT)
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says a helicopter has managed to land near where a passenger plane carrying 150 people crashed in the Alps, and has found there were no survivors.
The weather in the area deteriorated Tuesday afternoon, with a chilly rain falling.
Gilbert Sauvan, of the local council, told Les Echos newspaper, "The plane is disintegrated."
"The largest debris is the size of a car," he added.
The Germanwings Airbus 320 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, Germany, came down in the mountains on Tuesday morning after an eight-minute descent from its cruising height. Officials said they are still establishing whether there was a distress call.
3:20 p.m. (1420 GMT, 10:20 a.m. EDT)
The boss of airline Germanwings says the plane went into a long descent before it crashed into the French Alps, likely killing all 150 people on board.
Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann said the plane began descending again shortly after it reached its cruising height following takeoff from Barcelona Airport. The descent lasted eight minutes, he told reporters in Cologne. Radar and air traffic control contact broke off at 10:53 a.m.
He said the pilot had more than 10 years' experience working for Germanwings and its parent airline Lufthansa. Airbus said the A320 was delivered to Lufthansa in 1991.
Germanwings said the passenger manifest included two babies. Officials believe there were 67 German nationals on board.
3:05 p.m. (1405 GMT, 10:05 a.m. EDT)
Officials at two airports are rushing to provide help and information to relatives and friends of the passengers aboard the crashed Germanwings flight 9525.
In Barcelona, from where the plane took off Tuesday morning, police escorted people, some of them crying, through a terminal and took them to a secure part of the airport. They did not speak to the media, and one woman held a jacket over the head of a sobbing woman.
In Duesseldorf, the destination airport, family members arriving at the airport were taken from the main terminal to a nearby building. Airport employees partly covered the building with sheets to keep the relatives out of the eye of the public.
A total of 150 people were on board the plane when it crashed in the French Alps. No survivors are expected to be found.
2:50 p.m. (1350 GMT, 9:50 a.m. EDT)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she will head to the remote mountain in the French Alps where a Germanwings passenger plane crashed with 150 people aboard.
She says her thoughts are "with those people who so suddenly lost their lives, among them many compatriots."
Merkel says she will travel to the region on Wednesday, a day after her foreign and transport ministers were heading to the crash site.
She is urging people not to speculate on the cause of the crash until an investigation can be conducted.
No survivors are expected in the crash of the plane, which was travelling Tuesday morning from Barcelona, Spain, to Duesseldorf, Germany.
2:05 p.m. (1305 GMT, 9:05 a.m. EDT)
The owner of a French Alpine camping ground says he heard a series of loud noises in the air before a Germanwings passenger plane carrying 150 people crashed to the ground.
Pierre Polizzi told The Associated Press the noise began at 11:30 a.m.
"There are often fighter jets flying over, so I thought it sounded just like that. I looked outside but I couldn't see any fighter planes."
"The noise I heard was long - like 8 seconds - as if the plane was going more slowly than a military plane speed. There was another long noise about 30 seconds later."
No survivors are expected in the crash of the plane that was travelling from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, Germany.
Polizzi said it would be difficult to get to the site of the crash. "The mountain is snowy and very hostile."
1:45 p.m. . (1245 GMT, 8:45 EDT)
Spanish King Felipe has cancelled his state visit to France following the crash of a plane in the southern French Alps.
The plane was flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf in Germany, and Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters in Seville that there were 45 people aboard the plane with Spanish last names but that authorities have not confirmed how many of them were Spanish.
Felipe met with French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday morning before ending his visit.
Airline Germanwings says there were 150 people on board the Airbus 320. Hollande has said no survivors are expected to be found.
1:40 p.m. (1240 GMT, 8:40 a.m. EDT)
Airline Germanwings says there were 144 passengers and six crew aboard a plane that crashed in the French Alps.
Manager Oliver Wagner did not say whether there were any survivors and added it was not currently possible to give more information on how the crash occurred. "I promise that we will do everything to clear up the events thoroughly," he said. "We are endlessly sorry for what has happened."
Other officials have given slightly differing figures for the number on board.
The Airbus 320 crashed Tuesday morning during a flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, Germany. French President Francois Hollande has said no survivors are expected.
The Germanwings logo, normally maroon and yellow, was blacked out on its Twitter feed.
1:25 p.m. (1225 GMT, 8:25 a.m. EDT)
The Airbus 320 plane that went down in the French Alps is a workhorse of modern aviation. Similar to the Boeing 737, the single-aisle, twin-engine jet is used to connect cities that are between one and five hours apart. Worldwide, 3,606 A320s are in operation, according to Airbus, which also makes the smaller but near-identical A318 and A319 and the stretched A321. An additional 2,486 of those jets are flying.
The Germanwings A320 crashed Tuesday crashed in the south of the Alps while flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf in Germany. No survivors are expected.
The A320 family has a good safety record, with just 0.14 fatal accidents per million takeoffs, according to a Boeing safety analysis.
1:10 p.m. (1210 GMT, 8:10 a.m. EDT)
The CEO of Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, says he doesn't yet have any information about what happened to its flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf that French officials say has crashed in the Alps.
"My deepest sympathy is with all the relatives and friends of our passengers and crew on 4U 9525," Carsten Spohr was cited in a tweet by Lufthansa as saying. "If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa. We hope to find survivors."
Antonio San Jose, spokesman for Spanish airport authority AENA, told the Onda Cero radio station that authorities do not yet know how many Spaniards were on the jet but that the authority's best information is that 147 people were aboard the plane.
"It would be a miracle if there were survivors but hopefully there will be. We do not know the causes, simply that it lost contact," San Jose said.
1 p.m. (1200 GMT, 8 a.m. EDT)
French President Francois Hollande has spoken briefly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to express solidarity following the crash of a Germanwings plane in southern France.
The German ambassador is leaving imminently with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve for the area of the crash.
The Airbus A320 crashed in the south of the Alps while flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf in Germany. Holland says no survivors are expected.
Spanish King Felipe and his wife are in France on a previously scheduled visit and are currently meeting Hollande.
12:40 p.m. (1140 GMT, 7:40 a.m. EDT)
French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet says debris from the crash of an Airbus A320 has been located and the plane crashed at 2,000 metres altitude in the Alps.
Brandet told BFM television that he expected "an extremely long and extremely difficult" search and rescue operation because of the area's remoteness.
The airplane sent out a distress signal at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, Brandet said.
He said the passenger manifest is being verified.
12:30 p.m. (1130 GMT, 7:30 a.m. EDT)
French President Francois Hollande says no survivors are likely in the Alpine crash of a passenger jet carrying 148 people.
The Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed Tuesday in the French Alps region as it travelled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, French officials said. Eric Ciotti, the head of the regional council, said search-and-rescue teams were headed to the crash site at Meolans-Revels.
In a live briefing Tuesday, Hollande said the area of the crash was remote and it was not clear whether anyone on the ground had been hurt. Hollande said it was probable that a number of the victims are German.
"It's a tragedy on our soil," he said, adding he would be speaking shortly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The French newspaper La Provence, citing aviation officials, said the Airbus plane carried at least 142 passengers, two pilots and four flight attendants.