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Germanwings airliner 4U 9525 crashes in French Alps - 150 reported dead

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Forensic experts of the French gendarmerie looking for the black box or clues on the site of the March 24 crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 in which all 150 people on board were killed.

Forensic experts of the French gendarmerie looking for the black box or clues on the site of the March 24 crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 in which all 150 people on board were killed.

AFP/Getty Images

Forensic experts of the French gendarmerie disaster victim identification unit (UGIVC) working under a tent near the site of the March 24 crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 in which all 150 people on board were killed.

Forensic experts of the French gendarmerie disaster victim identification unit (UGIVC) working under a tent near the site of the March 24 crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 in which all 150 people on board were killed.

AFP/Getty Images

LA VERNET, FRANCE - MARCH 28:  Relatives stand at a monument to honour the victims of Germanwings flight 4U9525 in front of the mountains near the crash site on March 26, 2015 in Le Vernet, France. France.

LA VERNET, FRANCE - MARCH 28: Relatives stand at a monument to honour the victims of Germanwings flight 4U9525 in front of the mountains near the crash site on March 26, 2015 in Le Vernet, France. France.

LE VERNET, FRANCE - MARCH 28:  Policemen stand in front of a memorial stone for the victims of the Germanwings Airbus flight near to the crash site on March 28, 2015 in Le Vernet, France.

LE VERNET, FRANCE - MARCH 28: Policemen stand in front of a memorial stone for the victims of the Germanwings Airbus flight near to the crash site on March 28, 2015 in Le Vernet, France.

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Officials from the Japanese Consulate in Marseille reflect on March 29 2015 in front of headstone in Seyne-les-Alpes, the closest accessible site to where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed on March 24 in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

Officials from the Japanese Consulate in Marseille reflect on March 29 2015 in front of headstone in Seyne-les-Alpes, the closest accessible site to where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed on March 24 in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

AFP/Getty Images

SEYNE, FRANCE - MARCH 29:  Rescue workers and gendarmerie continue their search operation near the site of the Germanwings plane crash on March 29, 2015 in Seyne les Alpes, France.

SEYNE, FRANCE - MARCH 29: Rescue workers and gendarmerie continue their search operation near the site of the Germanwings plane crash on March 29, 2015 in Seyne les Alpes, France.

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A helicopter of the French gendarmerie flies over Seyne-les-Alpes on March 28, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings flight crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard.

A helicopter of the French gendarmerie flies over Seyne-les-Alpes on March 28, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings flight crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard.

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Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz

Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz

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Search and rescue teams attend to the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus in the French Alps on March 25, 2015 near Seyne, France.

Search and rescue teams attend to the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus in the French Alps on March 25, 2015 near Seyne, France.

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The home of Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz

The home of Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz

AFP/Getty Images

March 26, 2015 -- The cockpit voice recorder recovered from the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps indicates that the co-pilot intentionally started a descent while the pilot was locked out of the cockpit. Graphic shows layout of the A320 cockpit and entrance door.

March 26, 2015 -- The cockpit voice recorder recovered from the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps indicates that the co-pilot intentionally started a descent while the pilot was locked out of the cockpit. Graphic shows layout of the A320 cockpit and entrance door.

The credit GRAPHIC NEWS mu

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, French President Francois Hollande, right, and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pay respect to victims in front of the mountain where a Germanwings jetliner crashed Tuesday, in Le Vernet, France, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Pool)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, French President Francois Hollande, right, and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pay respect to victims in front of the mountain where a Germanwings jetliner crashed Tuesday, in Le Vernet, France, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Pool)

AP

The voice data recorder of the Germanwings jetliner that crashed Tuesday in the French Alps. French investigators cracked open the badly damaged black box of a German jetliner on Wednesday and sealed off the rugged Alpine crash site where 150 people died when their plane on a flight from Barcelona, Spain to Duesseldorf slammed into a mountain. (AP Photo/Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses)

The voice data recorder of the Germanwings jetliner that crashed Tuesday in the French Alps. French investigators cracked open the badly damaged black box of a German jetliner on Wednesday and sealed off the rugged Alpine crash site where 150 people died when their plane on a flight from Barcelona, Spain to Duesseldorf slammed into a mountain. (AP Photo/Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses)

AP

Journalists wait on March 25, 2015 on a air base in Seyne, French Alps a day after a Germanwings Airbus A320 smashed into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. Search and rescue operations restarted on Wednesday at the site, helicopters took over from an improvised base, heading for the remote area of the Alps where the plane crashed. AFP PHOTO/BORIS HORVATBORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images

Journalists wait on March 25, 2015 on a air base in Seyne, French Alps a day after a Germanwings Airbus A320 smashed into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. Search and rescue operations restarted on Wednesday at the site, helicopters took over from an improvised base, heading for the remote area of the Alps where the plane crashed. AFP PHOTO/BORIS HORVATBORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

French emergency services workers (back) and members of the French gendarmerie gather in Seyne, south-eastern France, on March 24, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps.

French emergency services workers (back) and members of the French gendarmerie gather in Seyne, south-eastern France, on March 24, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps.

AFP/Getty Images

BARCELONA, SPAIN- MARCH 24:  Relatives of passangers of the Germanwings plane crashed in French Alps arrive at the Terminal 2 of the Barcelona El Prat airport on March 24, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. A Germanwings Airbus A320 airliner with 148 people on board has crashed in French Alps.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

BARCELONA, SPAIN- MARCH 24: Relatives of passangers of the Germanwings plane crashed in French Alps arrive at the Terminal 2 of the Barcelona El Prat airport on March 24, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. A Germanwings Airbus A320 airliner with 148 people on board has crashed in French Alps. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

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A poster reading "Yesterday we were many, today we are alone" can be seen in front of a memorial of flowers and candles near the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium secondary school in Haltern am See, western Germany on March 25, 2015, from where some of the Germanwings plane crash victims came. AFP PHOTO / SASCHA SCHUERMANNSASCHA SCHUERMANN/AFP/Getty Images

A poster reading "Yesterday we were many, today we are alone" can be seen in front of a memorial of flowers and candles near the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium secondary school in Haltern am See, western Germany on March 25, 2015, from where some of the Germanwings plane crash victims came. AFP PHOTO / SASCHA SCHUERMANNSASCHA SCHUERMANN/AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

A helicopter of civil security services is seen in Seyne, south-eastern France, on March 24, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps.

A helicopter of civil security services is seen in Seyne, south-eastern France, on March 24, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps.

AFP/Getty Images

The March 7, 2014 photo shows an Airbus A320 of German airline Germanwings as it lands at the airport in Hamburg, northern Germany. A Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf Tuesday, March 24, 2015.  (AP Photo/dpa, Jan-Arwed Richter)

The March 7, 2014 photo shows an Airbus A320 of German airline Germanwings as it lands at the airport in Hamburg, northern Germany. A Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (AP Photo/dpa, Jan-Arwed Richter)

AP

Members of the French gendarmerie gather in Seyne, south-eastern France, on March 24, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps.

Members of the French gendarmerie gather in Seyne, south-eastern France, on March 24, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps.

AFP/Getty Images

The arrivals board shows flight 4U 9525 without a status at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The arrivals board shows flight 4U 9525 without a status at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

AP

A man who appears to have waited for the missing flight 4U 9525 reacts at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

A man who appears to have waited for the missing flight 4U 9525 reacts at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

AP

French president Francois Hollande addresses medias at the Elysee presidential palace after a meeting with Spanish royal couple, on March 24, 2015 at in Paris. Spanish King Felipe VI cut short his first state visit to France after 150 people died in a Germanwings airliner crash in the French Alps after earlier taking off from Barcelona.  AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAUsMARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

French president Francois Hollande addresses medias at the Elysee presidential palace after a meeting with Spanish royal couple, on March 24, 2015 at in Paris. Spanish King Felipe VI cut short his first state visit to France after 150 people died in a Germanwings airliner crash in the French Alps after earlier taking off from Barcelona. AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAUsMARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

The logo of German airline Lufthansa (top) and its Germanwings subsidiary can be seen near a counter on March 24, 2015 at the airport in Duesseldorf, western Germany, where the crashed Germanwings airplane was due to land.

The logo of German airline Lufthansa (top) and its Germanwings subsidiary can be seen near a counter on March 24, 2015 at the airport in Duesseldorf, western Germany, where the crashed Germanwings airplane was due to land.

AFP/Getty Images

A man who appears to have waited for the missing flight 4U 9525 covers his face at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

A man who appears to have waited for the missing flight 4U 9525 covers his face at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

AP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a press conference follwing a Germanwings plane crash on March 24, 2015 in Berlin. An Airbus A320 belonging to Germanwings, low-cost airline owned by German flag carrier Lufthansa, en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf disappeared from the radar screens.  AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZTOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a press conference follwing a Germanwings plane crash on March 24, 2015 in Berlin. An Airbus A320 belonging to Germanwings, low-cost airline owned by German flag carrier Lufthansa, en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf disappeared from the radar screens. AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZTOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

AFP/Getty Images

Carsten Spohr, CEO of German airline Lufthansa

Carsten Spohr, CEO of German airline Lufthansa

AFP/Getty Images

An Airbus 320 aircraft of Lufthansa's low-cost subsidiary Germanwings

An Airbus 320 aircraft of Lufthansa's low-cost subsidiary Germanwings

AFP/Getty Images

An Airbus 320 aircraft of Lufthansa's low-cost subsidiary Germanwings

An Airbus 320 aircraft of Lufthansa's low-cost subsidiary Germanwings

AP

Spanish King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia listen to French president as he addresses medias at the Elysee presidential palace after a meeting, on March 24, 2015 at in Paris.

Spanish King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia listen to French president as he addresses medias at the Elysee presidential palace after a meeting, on March 24, 2015 at in Paris.

AFP/Getty Images

Helicopters of the French Air Force (back) and civil security services are seen in Seyne, south-eastern France, on March 24, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps.

Helicopters of the French Air Force (back) and civil security services are seen in Seyne, south-eastern France, on March 24, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps.

AFP/Getty Images

Forensic experts of the French gendarmerie looking for the black box or clues on the site of the March 24 crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 in which all 150 people on board were killed.

An Airbus plane that crashed in the French Alps, killing everyone on board, is believed to have been carrying 16 schoolchildren and two babies.

The Germanwings A320 had 144 passengers and six crew on board.

Flight 4U 9525 was flying from Barcelona to Dusseldorf when it crashed at an altitude of 6,500ft in the mountainous zone of Meolans-Revels, near Digne.

Among the passengers were 67 Germans and 45 Spanish citizens.

German newspaper Bild is reporting that 16 teenagers and two teachers from Haltern, in western Germany, are among the dead.

France's Transport Ministry confirmed on Tuesday afternoon there were no survivors.

Crash site

French prime minister Manuel Valls said a helicopter has managed to land near the crash site.

Gilbert Sauvan, an official with the local council, told Les Echos newspaper: "The plane is disintegrated.

"The largest debris is the size of a car."

Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said he expects "an extremely long and extremely difficult" search and rescue operation because the area is so remote.

It is surrounded by mountains and there are few clear trails to the snow-covered area.

Distress signal

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The arrivals board shows flight 4U 9525 without a status at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The arrivals board shows flight 4U 9525 without a status at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

AP

The arrivals board shows flight 4U 9525 without a status at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The plane sent out a distress signal at 10.45am local time (9.45am GMT).

The boss of Germanwings said the plane went into a long descent before it crashed.

Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann said the plane began descending again shortly after it reached its cruising height following take-off from Barcelona Airport.

The descent lasted eight minutes, he told reporters in Cologne. Radar and air traffic control contact broke off at 10.53am.

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.

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A man who appears to have waited for the missing flight 4U 9525 reacts at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

A man who appears to have waited for the missing flight 4U 9525 reacts at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

AP

A man who appears to have waited for the missing flight 4U 9525 reacts at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, after a Germanwings passenger jet carrying 148 people crashed in the French Alps region as it traveled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

'Noises'

The owner of a campground near the crash site, Pierre Polizzi, said he heard the plane making curious noises shortly before it crashed.

"At 11.30, I heard a series of loud noises in the air. 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," he said.

"The noise I heard was long - like eight seconds - as if the plane was going more slowly than a military plane. There was another long noise after about 30 seconds."

Mr Polizzi said the plane crashed about 3 to 11 miles (5 to 8km) from his place, which is closed for the season.

"It's going to be very difficult to get there. The mountain is snowy and very hostile," he said.

The municipal sports hall of Seyne-les-Alpes, six miles (10 kilometres) from the Val d'Allos ski resort, was being set up to take bodies or survivors from the crash, according to Sandrine Julien of the town hall.

Cruising

There was no obvious weather reason why the plane went down. Captain Benoit Zeisser of the nearby Digne-le-Bains police said there were some clouds but the cloud ceiling was not low.

In addition, the safest part of a flight is when the plane is at cruising elevation. Just 10% of fatal accidents occur at that point, according to a safety analysis by Boeing. In contrast, take-off and the initial climb accounts for 14% of crashes and final approach and landing accounts for 47%.

Germanwings official Oliver Wagner told German television that Germanwings flight 9525 carried 144 passengers and six crew members. He did not give a breakdown of nationalities on board.

Low-cost airline

Germanwings is a lower-cost unit of Lufthansa, Germany's biggest airline.

It has been operating since 2002, part of traditional national carriers' response from rising European budget carriers. It serves mainly European destinations.

The Germanwings logo, normally maroon and yellow, was blacked out on its Twitter feed.

Family members arriving at Dusseldorf airport were taken from the main terminal to a nearby building, which airport employees partially covered with sheets for privacy.

At Barcelona airport, police escorted several crying women to a part of the airport away from the media. One woman held a jacket over the head of another woman, who was sobbing.

Tragedy

In a live briefing, the French President Francois Hollande said it was likely that a number of the victims were German. "It's a tragedy on our soil," he said.

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.

German chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to both Mr Hollande and Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy about the crash, immediately cancelling all other appointments.

At a briefing in Berlin, Ms Merkel told reporters she would travel to the crash site region tomorrow, and that Germany's foreign and transport ministers were already en route.

She said her thoughts were "with those people who so suddenly lost their lives, among them many compatriots".

"The crash of the German plane with more than 140 people on board is a shock that plunges us in Germany, the French and the Spanish into deep sorrow," Ms Merkel said.

She reminded everyone that the cause was not known.

"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. "All that will be investigated thoroughly."

A320

The A320 plane is a workhorse of modern aviation. Similar to the Boeing 737, the single-aisle, twin-engine jet is used to connect cities between one and five hours apart. Worldwide, 3,606 A320s are in operation, according to Airbus.

The A320 is certified to fly up to 39,000 feet but it can begin to experience problems as low as 37,000 feet, depending on temperature and weight, including fuel, cargo and passengers.

The A320 family also has a good safety record, with just 0.14 fatal accidents per million take-offs, according to a Boeing safety analysis.

The German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation was sending three people to France to join the investigation.

French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, the country's top security official, and the German ambassador in Paris were among those heading to the crash site.

In Madrid, Mr Rajoy suspended his agenda to preside over an emergency government meeting about the crash.

"Like everyone, I lament this incredibly sad and dramatic accident," Mr Rajoy said.

Antonio San Jose, spokesman for the Spanish airport authority AENA, said his agency was working with Germanwings to reach out to relatives of the victims.

Spain's king and queen, in Paris today, cancelled their previously planned state visit and offered their condolences to all who lost a loved one in the crash.

Belfast Telegraph