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Germanwings plane crash: Alps recovery operation resumes

One of the “black box” recorders has been recovered from the site near Digne. Officials said it was damaged but was still expected to yield data.

The German, French and Spanish leaders have now arrived at the crash site.

The Airbus A320 – flight 4U 9525 – from Barcelona to Duesseldorf crashed after an eight-minute rapid descent.

Germanwings chief Thomas Winkelmann said 72 of the 144 passengers were German citizens and 35 were Spanish, although the list was being constantly updated. The German victims included 16 pupils returning from an exchange trip.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond confirmed that three Britons were on board. Other victims were from Australia, Argentina, Iran, Venezuela, the US, the Netherlands, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, Denmark and Israel.

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.

Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said if voices had been recorded the investigation would proceed “fairly quickly”.

Investigators are still searching for the second “black box” – the flight data recorder.

The cockpit voice recorder “black box” is pretty battered but the devices are bomb-proof, literally, so investigators should still be able to listen to what happened on board.

The large, orange cylindrical part in the middle holds the memory boards that record the pilots’ voices, and that looks intact to me.

The critical question now is, were the pilots speaking during those lost eight minutes when the aircraft dropped from 38,000ft to the ground?

If they’re quiet, investigators will know they were unconscious, and that suggests a major decompression took place on board. That’s when a hole in the fuselage lets all the air out. It’s not necessarily fatal, if the pilots can get their oxygen masks on in time, something they train for, but if they were knocked out, it would explain the lack of a mayday call or any obvious attempt to steer the stricken aircraft to the nearest runway.

A day of mourning is being held at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium school in Haltern-am-See, north-west Germany, where the 16 German pupils were from.

Pupils at the Giola secondary school in the village of Llinars del Valles, north-east Spain, held a private 15-minute ceremony of remembrance for their foreign exchange student friends.

The BBC’s Tom Burridge says they listened to a German song which their friends had played to them and a Catalan poem was read out.

French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy are now at the crash site.

Speaking to reporters, all three thanked the rescue workers for their efforts.

Mr Rajoy has 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.

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.

Lufthansa and Germanwings staff held a minute’s silence on Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the first Germanwings flight on the same route as the crashed plane took off from Barcelona on Wednesday morning but the flight number had been changed to 4U 9441.

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.


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