Witnesses tell of horror as plane slammed into mountain killing 150
A GERMANWINGS jet carrying 150 people from Barcelona to Duesseldorf slammed into a remote section of the French Alps, sounding like an avalanche as it scattered pulverised 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.
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 utterly devastated after losing 16 students coming back from an exchange programme in Spain.
It is understood that at least three Britons have been killed in the French Alps plane crash disaster.
Announcing the figure, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said his heartfelt condolences went to the family and friends who had lost their lives.
“This is pretty much the worst thing you can imagine,” a visibly rattled Haltern Mayor Bodo Klimpel said at a hastily called press conference.
After night fell on the hardto-reach site, French authorities called off the search and helicopters stopped flying over the area.
About 10 gendarmes will spend the night at the crash site to guard it, and search operations will resume at daybreak in the mountain town of Seyne-les-Alpes. Recovery operations are expected to last a week, he said.
“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,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted.
Lufthansa Vice President Heike Birlenbach told reporters in Barcelona that for now “we say it is an accident.”
In Washington, the White House said officials were in contact with their French, Spanish and German counterparts.
“There is no indication of a nexus to terrorism at this time,” said US National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.
Video and photos of the 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 pulverised. 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 reporters.
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.
Yesterday’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.
The plane left Barcelona Airport at 10.01am then began descending shortly after reaching its cruising height of 38,000 feet, Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann said. The descent lasted eight minutes.
Eric Heraud of the French Civil Aviation Authority said the Germanwings plane lost radio contact with a control center at 10.30am, 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 6,550 feet near the towns of Prads-Haute-Bleone and Meolans-Revels and the popular ski resort of Pra Loup. The site is 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, president of the local tourism office said.