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As it happened: Plane crashes in French Alps

Oliver Gee · 24 Mar 2015, 18:13

Published: 24 Mar 2015 18:13 GMT+01:00

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19:00  - That rounds up our coverage of what now ranks as one of France's worst air disasters of all time. 
Scroll down to find out more about how the accident and its aftermath unfolded. Click here to see a timeline of the day in pictures and here to read everything we know so far. 
18:50 - Germanwings says crash was 'accident'
Germanwings press conference explains that they believe crash was an accident and promise further updates early tomorrow morning. Teams from Germanwings, Lufthansa, Lufthansa Technik, Airbus and German air accident investigators en route to crash scene.
18:36 - First video footage of crash site emerges
18:15 - Spanish PM to visit crash site
Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he will visit the site of the crash on Wednesday. Forty-five Spaniards are reported to have been on the flight, which took off from Barcelona. 
"Tomorrow I will visit the area of the air accident in France," Rajoy said in a message on Twitter. 
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also announced she will visit the zone on Wednesday.
17:58 - CONFIRMED: Black box found
France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has confirmed that a flight recorder has been found at plane crash site. 
"A black box was found and will be delivered to investigators," Cazeneuve told reporters.
Flight recorders, known colloquially as "black boxes", help investigators obtain information about the plane's logs, sensors, and even pilot conversations in the minutes before the crash. 
In what has already been estimated to be a huge investigation, the news suggests experts will be able to reveal exactly what went wrong much quicker than previously imagined.
17:53 - Germanwings' CEO says plane plunged for eight minutes
Here's more from today's press conference with Germanwings' CEO Thomas Winkelmann, where he told reporters that the jet plunged for a total of eight minutes
We've put together a recap of accident in pictures here, including a timeline of events.
17:25 - No-fly zone put in place over crash area
The area above the crash zone has been shut down for unauthorized air traffic, tweeted the national Gendarmerie police unit. 
17:24 - First black box found
Unconfirmed reports from newspaper France Info say that the first of the two flight recorders has been found. 
Flight recorders, known colloquially as "black boxes", are used by investigators to determine the last conversations of pilots and to obtain information about the plane's logs, sensors, and controls in the minutes before the crash. 
17:19 - Authorities flock to the scene
There are ten helicopters, one military plane, 350 firefighters and 300 military police are on the scene, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a statement. The minister himself is also in the area. 
Meanwhile, here is a picture showing the exact location of the wreckage. 
17:15 - First images of the aircraft released
Regional paper La Provence has released a set of images from the scene, where debris from the plane can be seen littered in small pieces over the entire mountainside. 
Click here to see more images from La Provence, but note that the site is loading very slowly. 
16:49 - Possible survivor reported
Somewhat named by the Haute Provence newspaper as policeman David Galtier has said that rescuing survivors is an "urgent" priority after his team said they "might have seen a body that moved". This remains unconfirmed.
The president said about an hour after the crash that there was unlikely to be any survivors. 
Police said about an hour ago that "there's no need for rescue operations, everyone is dead." 
16:40 - Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve arrives on the scene

(Photo: AFP)
16:21 - First images of crash scene emerge
The below picture was reportedly taken by Christophe Castaner, MP in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region and mayor of Forcalquier. 
He tweeted of the "horror" at in the mountains, adding that the plane was "totally destroyed".
"There's nothing but debris and bodies," he added.
And here is a video from what is understood to be the scene of the crash.
15:40 - Helicopters reach the wreckage
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said that a helicopter has landed near the wreckage and found no survivors, reported the AP news agency.

15:30 - 16 German pupils on board

The Local Germany reports that there were 16 pupils and two teachers from the Joseph-König Gymnasium (secondary school) aboard. They were returning from an exchange in Barcelona.
Some parents were still arriving at Düsseldorf airport at around 3pm not knowing of the crash.

15:22 - Pictures of emergency crews on the scene have emerged

(Helicopters from the French Air Force and civil security services on the scene. Photo: AFP)

15:13 - 67 Germans on board

Thomas Winkelmann, CEO of Germanwings said at the press conference that 67 Germans are believed to have been on board.

"Most important is our deep sorrow for our passengers, their relatives, as well as the crew's friends and relatives, since they have lost their dear loved ones. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims," he added. 

He said the 24-year-old plane was checked as recently as Monday, and that "there was absolutely no issue with the age of the airplane." 

15:07 - Germanwings press conference

There is currently a press conference underway by Germanwings.

Some information on the plane and pilot:

Last check up on plane was in summer 2013. The pilot had ten years experience and had flown a total of 6,000 hours.

A team is on its way to the crash site to investigate the cause of the disaster.

14:58 - More on the distress signal confusion

The crew of the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps on Tuesday did not send a distress signal, civil aviation authorities told AFP.

"The crew did not send a Mayday. It was air traffic control that decided to declare the plane was in distress because there was no contact with the crew of the plane," the source said.

14:57 - Emergency crews prepare for victims

14:43 - Continued confusion over distress signal

There are still mixed reports over whether the airline sent a distress signal or not. Earlier reports said one was sent at around 10:47, but AFP have just sent out a new report, quoting an aviation official, who has said no distress signal was sent.
14:42 - Hard hours for Germany
German chancellor Angela Merkel announced she will visit the scene on Wednesday. 
She said in a press conference that these were "hard hours" for Germany.
"Now in this sad hour we must think about the victims and their families and friends," she said.
14:39  - Wreckage spread over 2km square

According to reports on BFM TV the debris of the place is spread over an area around the two kilometre squared at an altitude of 2,700 metres. 

Part of the aircraft is said to have come down in the village of Barcelonnette.

14:34 - Emergency teams heading up to the crash site

Here's some images from @ActuSecours that show various emergency teams preparing to head off to the site by helicopter.

14:33 - Germanwings sets up emergency number 

14:29 - Emergency crews arrive on the scene

(Photo: ActuSecours/Twitter)
14:24 - Strike called off
France's leading air traffic controller union SNCTA has called off a strike planned from Wednesday to Friday.
"We are suspending our planned strike as a result of the emotions created in the control rooms by the crash, particularly in Aix-en-Provence," the union's spokesman Roger Rousseau told AFP.
14:19 - Weather doesn't seem to have been an issue

French transport Minister Alain Vidalies said:“It is an area that is snow-capped, inaccessible by vehicles, but which could be flown over by helicopters.”

He added that the weather conditions “were not particularly bad”. 
A meteorologist with MétéoNews has said the weather will remain calm and sunny for the rest of the day but strong winds are expected in the area tomorrow.
This tweet below shows adverse weather in the south of France, but the area where the plane came down, near Dignes, appears clear.

14:11 - Emergency crews on the scene as families mourn

14:10 - 'I heard a loud thud overhead, like the sound of an avalanche'

Eyewitness report from a resident in the village of Le Vernet, near the crash site.

“This morning I heard a huge thud and then I saw several fighter jets fly over the village,” the resident told Le Parisien newspaper. “The initial sound I heard was like an avalanche or like the sound of dynamite that they blow up to cause an avalanche.”

“Then around noon I looked out the window and I saw a column of smoke rising into the air. From the centre of the village to the crash site must be around 3km. But we are in the mountains and there’s a lot of snow.

“At the moment there are helicopters flying over overhead.”

14:07 - Witnesses hear the crash
Pierre Polizzi, who owns a nearby camping site, told al-Jazeera that he heard the plane come down. 
"There was a loud noise and then suddenly nothing. At first I thought it came from fighter jets that often hold drills in the area," he said. 
"The plane crashed just 2 kilometres from here, high on a mountain."
13:55 - Germanwings statement

"In light of the information available at the present time we cannot say whether there are survivors or how many there might be," Germanwings chief  executive, Oliver Wagner, said in a brief statement on German television.

13:54 - "Emergency, emergency"

The last reported contact with the pilots is reported to be the word "emergency, emergency", French media reported. 

13:50 - Remote crash site 

Hollande says emergency search and rescue teams are doing everything they can to access the site, which is in a remote area of the French Alps in the Massif de Trois Evéchés. The photo below gives some idea of what emergency teams face.

13:49 - View from a press helicopter

13:35 - King Felipe cancels state visit

The Spanish King, Felipe VI, who is in Paris on his first state visit abroad has cancelled the rest of the trip in the wake of the plane crash. 

(Spanish King Felipe and his wife Queen Letizia. Photo: AFP)

13:44 - Number of dead updated

Airline Germanwings have now upped the death toll from 148 to 150. The airline says 144 passengers were on board and six crew. French president François Hollande says he believes most of the passengers were German, Spanish and Turkish. Spanish authorities have already confirmed that  there were 45 Spaniards on board.

13:29 - Worst aviation disaster in France since 1981

The crash of the Germanwings Airbus flight is one of the worst aviation disaster in France in the last 40 years, dating back to the crash of a Turkish airlines flight in the Oise region near Paris in 1974, that killed all 346 people on board.

In 1981, all 180 people on board a passenger plane were killed when the aircraft crashed into mountains on the island of Corsica.

The last major plane crash in France was the Concorde crash at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris in July 2000, that killed 109 passengers and crew

13:26 - Crash site inaccessible to road vehicles

French transport minister has said that the crash site is not accessible to road vehicles, which means emergency crews and air investigators can only reach the site by helicopter.

13:25 - Here's a video of French President François Hollande speaking to the press earlier.

13:17 - Hollande supports Merkel
French President Francois Hollande "extended all his support" to Merkel during a phone call, the French presidency said in a statement, while the German ambassador to France said she would visit the crash site in the southern Alps within hours.
13:16 - Germanwings to speak
Germanwings will hold a news conference at 2pm GMT near Cologne-Bonn airport.
13:15 - Spanish PM "saddened"
Story continues below…
"Saddened by the airline accident in the Alps. A tragedy. We are working with French and German authorities on the investigation," says the Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy in a tweet.
13:13 - Crash site hard to reach
Pierre Martin-Charpenel, Barcelonnette's Mayor, told BFM TV that "the small valley where the plane fell is very snowy, isolated and out of the way. It will be very difficult for rescue teams to arrive at the scene."
13:12 - Blank arrivals board
The tweet above shows the blank space on the arrivals board in Dusseldorf.
13:07 - Ten forensic experts already on scene
There are ten members of the forensic science department of the French National Gendarmerie (IRCGN) already on the scene, reported BFM TV. A further 20 are on the way. 
13:00 - 45 Spanish passengers 
13:05 - Plane dived for ten minutes before crashing
12:57 - 'No survivors in plane crash'

"There are no survivors" from the Germanwings plane that crashed into the French Alps on Tuesday carrying 148 people from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, said the French transport minister.

"A distress call was registered at 10:47. The distress signal showed the plane was at 5,000 feet in an abnormal situation," said Alain Vidalies, minister of state for transport, adding that the crash happened shortly after the distress signal.

12:41 – Was a distress signal issued?

Some reports in the French media say the Germanwings plane did not issue a distress signal before disappearing from radar, but other reports have said a “very brief distress signal was issued”.  

Speculation will no doubt continue that the plane may have been brought down by a terrorist attack, although it’s clearly far too early to know what exactly happened.

12:42 - Comment from Lufthansa CEO

12:40 - More on the town near the crash site
The town of Barcelonnette is located in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department in the Provence-Cote-d'Azur region and covers an area of 16.42 km2. With a population of just 2,735. It's been subject to several orders of natural disaster in recent history: floods and mudslides in 1994 and 2008, and landslides in 1996 and 1999.
(The Barcelonnette area. Photo: ADT 04/Flickr)
12:22 - German victims
There are "likely many German victims", said President Hollande, according to a tweet from the presidential palace.
12:21 - Interior Minister on the way
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who said debris from the plane had already been found, was heading to the scene.
12:20 - Live webcam
12:19 - Shares slump

Shares in Airbus, the European aerospace giant, slumped on news of the accident, down 1.77 percent to 58.94 euros at 1100 GMT after briefly sliding two percent.

12:17 - Another aviation tragedy 

President François Hollande says "It is a new aviation tragedy, a grief that we have to experience. The first support we offer is solidarity".

12:12 - 'No survivors expected'

French president François Hollande has said that authorities do not expect their to be any survivors from the Germanwings plane crash. There were 148 people on board in total, with 142 passengers and six crew.

The French PM has confirmed that the wreckage has been found and emergency crews and firefighters are on their way to the scene.

12:07: Germanwings tweets out

"We have recently become aware of media reports speculating on an incident though we still do not have any own confirmed information. As soon as definite information is available, we shall inform the media immediately," the airline said.
Germanwings is a low-cost affiliate of German airline Lufthansa. The single-aisle A320 typically seats 150 to 180 people.
12:03 - People in Dusseldorf, Germany, where the flight was heading, are desperately trying to find out information and we are hearing reports that the website for the airport has crashed. People are being advised to contact Germanwings through the company site, but that too is proving problematic.

12:02 - Emergency crews are on their way to the crash site, reports says, including firefighters and emergency first aid teams. 

11:58 - The flight had 142 passengers, 2 pilots, and 4 stewards. 

Germanwings, the airline, is advising people to go to its website, www.germanwings.com, for updates but the site is loading very slowly.

The tweet above shows when the plane lost contact with control towers. 

11:56 - According to French media two helicopters from France's aviation police (DGAC) located the wreckage of the plane near Prads-Haute-Bléone, between Digne-les-Bains and Barcelonnette.

11:52 - Reports about the number of people who were on board the flight are varying. French newspaper Le Parisien reported that 142 people were on board the plane, whereas other sources are quoting 152 people in all.

11:50 - Here's the latest from AFP: 

An Airbus A320 plane crashed on Tuesday in the southern French Alps, security sources said.

One of the sources said the plane belonged to Germanwings, an affiliate of German airline Lufthansa, travelling between Barcelona and Dusseldorf. The single-aisle A320 typically seats 150 to 180 people.

11:48 - The flight, number GWI9525, took off at 10.01am from Barcelona and was due to land in Düsseldorf at 11.49am.

11:45  - According to reports a Germanwings plane has crashed near the town of Dignes in the southern French Alps. Reports say the plane which was heading from Barcelona in Spain to Dusseldorf in Germany crashed around 11am.


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