Rescue helicopters flying over the French Alps have located bodies and parts of the fuselage belonging to a Germanwings flight that crashed there on Tuesday morning, killing all 150 people aboard.
French Transportation Secretary Alain Vidalies said that some remains of the aircraft, which was covering the Barcelona-Düsseldorf route, were spotted near Méolans-Revel, a remote and mountainous spot in southern France where the rugged terrain and adverse weather conditions are hindering the rescue operation.
At 4.01pm, the French Socialist deputy in the region Christophe Castaner flew over the crash site with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and tweeted the following message: “Awful images in this mountain landscape. Nothing left but debris and dead bodies.”
There is nobody here, just the snow. These are the southern Alps, it’s a remote mountain area”
The debris is scattered over a two-kilometer area, said Christophe Castaner, the Socialist deputy in the region. Members of the French Gendarmerie are flying over the site, he added.
“There is nobody here, just the snow,” explained one resident of Méolans-Revel who declined to have his name in print. “These are the southern Alps, it’s a remote mountain area.”
Among the list of 144 passengers there were 16 German students who were going home after an exchange program with Catalan families in Llinars del Vallés (Barcelona). Two instructors were flying with this group.
French President François Hollande announced that among the 150 people aboard the Germanwings flight there were “Spanish victims and from other nationalities, chiefly German and Turkish.”
One of the problems facing rescue teams is the lack of daylight, as the sun sets around 6.30pm in this area
The mayor of the Catalan city of Badalona, Xavier García Albiol, used Twitter to report that a local resident named “Javier” was among the passengers of the Germanwings flight.
The Spanish victims also include two workers from the convention center Fira de Barcelona and two more from Delphi auto parts manufacturer, the Catalan daily La Vanguardia reported.
A man from Lorca, Murcia is also among the missing. The mayor said he has already been in touch with the family.
Alain Ciardet, deputy mayor of Prads-Haute-Bléone, the commune (group of hamlets) where the accident occurred, told EL PAÍS that the Airbus A320 aircraft crashed into the Estrop massif, which has an altitude of 2,981 meters.
“The problem is there are no roads, and the rescue services can only get there by helicopter,” he explained.
I want to express all my solidarity to the victims of this airline accident. It’s a bereavement, a tragedy” French President François Hollande
Officials in the French department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence said that 300 gendarmes and firefighters are already headed for the crash site, and that this contingent will be raised to 600 in the coming hours.
The commune of Prads-Haute-Bléone has 232 residents in total.
One of the problems facing rescue teams is the lack of daylight, as the sun sets around 6.30pm in this area.
The Foreign Ministry said it has activated the Consular Emergency Unit, which is coordinating action between the Spanish consulates in Marseille and Düsseldorf to assist the families of the victims. The Spanish government has also set up a crisis cabinet mirroring a similar move by France.
El Prat airport in Barcelona has set aside an area for relatives of the crash victims.
No technical problems had been detected before 10.47am, when the aircraft began losing altitude fast and the radar signal was lost
Oliver Wagner, managing director of Germanwings, said the company could not yet offer any cause for the accident, and assured that they would do everything in their power to clear up the reasons of the crash.
The specialized website Flightradar24 reported that the aircraft carried the license plate D-AIPX, that it was built in 1990 and began operating a year later. Before becoming part of the Germanwings fleet, it had flown the colors of Lufthansa, its parent company.
An airline spokesman said there were 67 German nationals on board.
“I want to express all my solidarity to the victims of this airline accident. It’s a bereavement, a tragedy,” tweeted French President François Hollande shortly after noon.
In a press conference held at 3.30pm Spanish time, Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann offered some additional information about Flight GWI9525, which should have landed in Düsseldorf at 11.35am.
The flight was under the command of a pilot with 10 years’ flying experience and 6,000 hours of flight time, he said.
The aircraft dropped from an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,000 meters) to 6,900 feet (1,800 meters) in just nine minutes, the latest reports show. Although the French Foreign Ministry said this was one of Germanwings’ oldest jets, Winkelmann denied that this may have played a role in the crash. The company spokesman said he did not want to “speculate” about the reasons of the accident, and asked for “prudence.”
The last time the airplane had been in for a technical checkup was in the summer of 2013, said Winkelmann.
No technical problems had been detected before 10.47am, when the aircraft began losing altitude fast and the radar signal was lost, he said.
The jet was acquired by Lufthansa in February 1991. Winkelmann insisted that there are many other aircraft in the fleet just as old as the one that crashed on Tuesday.
The Airbus 320 had undergone a routine check on March 23, the day before the accident, said Winkelmann. Before that, it had been taken in for a full maintenance check in the summer of 2013, following international flying regulations.
Winkelmann said the company will not release personal information about the passengers until their families have been informed.