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France Plane Crash Source: Frank Augstein/AP/Press Association Images

SOMETIME AFTER 10.53am local-time, a Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf crashed in the Digne area of the French Alps, with 150 people feared dead.

Here’s what we know so far:

  • 150 people were on board, including 144 passengers, two pilots and four crew.
  • The French president and prime minister have said they expect ‘no survivors’.
  • The airline, Germanwings, say they are treating the crash as an accident.
  • The French Foreign Minister has said that one of the black boxes has been found.
  • 16 German schoolchildren on an exchange programme were on board.
  • The plane went into an eight-minute descent but authorities say no distress single was sent.
  • The single-aisle A320 was flying from Barcelona to Dusseldorf .
  • President Francois Hollande said the area of the crash was remote and the rescue operation will be long and difficult.

TheJournal.ie provided updates on the tragedy throughout the day.

The area where the plane went down is near a popular ski resort.

A statement from Germanwings is expected shortly. Here’s what the airline has said so far:

“It’s a tragedy on our soil,” President Hollande has said, adding he would be speaking shortly with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A statement just in from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs:

The Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade  is aware of reports that a German wings plane has crashed in Southern  France with 148 people on board.   The plane was en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf.

There is no information as yet as to the nationalities of those on board.   The Department is in contact with relevant authorities through our Embassies in Paris, Madrid and Berlin.

If you have concerns for a family member or relative please contact the Department of Foreign Affairs on 01-4082527.

Debris from the crash has been located at 2,000 metres.

The chief executive of Lufthansa (of which Germanwings is a subsidiary of) says the airline ‘doesn’t know yet what happened’ to crashed flight.

Pierre-Henry Brandet, the French Interior Ministry spokesman, told BFM television that he expects “an extremely long and extremely difficult” search and rescue operation because of the area’s remoteness.

A scene from the arrivals board at the airport in Duesseldorf, German, where Flight 4U 9525 was expected.

Germany France Plane Crash Source: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

France’s leading air traffic controller union SNCTA has called off a strike planned from Wednesday to Friday after news of the crash.

“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.

The plane sent out a distress signal at 10:45 am local time.

French President Francois Hollande told a press conference that he has been in touch with both German and Spanish leaders about it.

Because the area where the crash took place is “particularly difficult to access”, authorities don’t know right now what the other consequences of the crash have been – whether people living in the area have been affected – but they will know in the coming hours.

hollande

A man who appears to have waited for the crashed flight 4U 9525 covers his face at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany:

Germany France Plane Crash Source: Frank Augstein/AP/Press Association Images

According to Plane Finder, the route the plane took was nothing out of the ordinary. Here’s yesterday’s flight path…

… and here’s today’s.

A quick snippet about Germanwings from The Associated Press:

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.

A spokesman for Airbus, the European aerospace giant and manufacturer of the A320, said it could not make any comment “for the moment”.

“We have no information on the circumstances of the accident,” the spokesman told AFP, adding that the company had opened a “crisis cell”.

Germanwings will hold a press conference at 2pm near Cologne-Bonn airport. The airline had previously said it will inform the media of more details as soon as possible. It’s parent company, Lufthansa, said earlier that “if our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa”.

The Airbus A320 is a very common aircraft, operated by airlines all over the world. According to the manufacturer, as many as 6,500 planes have been produced.

It first entered operation in the late 1980s.

As it is very common, and has been in operation for almost three decades, it has been involved in a number of crashes.

The latest was AirAsia Flight 8501.

Pictures are starting to come through from Dusseldorf airport, where some people were waiting for the flight this morning. This woman is being led away by airport staff after the news.

Germany France Plane Crash Source: Frank Augstein

Lufthansa says it has no reasons for the crash, and the police have said the same thing.

Captain Benoit Zeisser of the Digne-le-Bains police told AP there were some clouds in the region but the cloud ceiling was not low and there did not appear to be turbulence.

However, weather conditions are deteriorating now, making the search and rescue operation difficult. Access to the site is expected to take some time.

Belgium EU Summit Source: AP/Press Association Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has cleared her schedule, her spokesperson has confirmed.

She is ‘shocked’ by the news of the horrific crash.

There are early reports that two of the Spanish citizens on board the flight were children.

A hotline number has been set up by the German Foreign Ministry for family members and others affected by the crash.

0800 11 33 55 77

Some more information on the Airbus 320, the model of plane involved in today’s tragic incident.

The Airbus 320 plane that went down in the French Alps is a workhorse of modern aviation. Similar to the Boeing 737, the single-aisle, twin-engine jet is used to connect cities that are between one and five hours apart.

There are 3,606 A320s are in operation across the world, according to Airbus, which also makes the smaller but near-identical A318 and A319 and the stretched A321. An additional 2,486 of those jets are flying.

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

President Hollande has said there are also a number of victims from Turkey.

He is currently giving a press conference, standing with the King and Queen of Spain.

He expressed condolences and solidarity on behalf of the French people.

France Spain Plane Crash French prime minister Manuerl Valls, left, speaks with Queen Letizia and King Felipe of Spain Source: AP/Press Association Images

Spain’s King Felipe has cancelled the remainder of his State visit to France, saying he will return home.

More people are comforted after coming to Dusseldorf airport with plans to greet people off the Germanwings flight.

Germany France Plane Crash Source: Frank Augstein

Germany France Plane Crash Source: Frank Augstein

Germanwings has confirmed that there were 144 passengers and six crew members on board the flight.

The most recent, full statement from Germanwings and Lufthansa.

We must confirm to our deepest regret that Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Düsseldorf has suffered an accident over the French Alps. The flight was being operated with an Airbus A320 aircraft, and was carrying 144 passengers and six crew members.

Lufthansa and Germanwings have established a telephone hotline. The toll-free 00800 11 33 55 77 number is available to all the families of the passengers involved for care and assistance. Everyone at Germanwings and Lufthansa is deeply shocked and saddened by these events.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the passengers and crew members.

Witness reports are starting to come in. AP has spoken to Pierre Polizzi who said he began to hear a series of long noises this morning.

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.

“The noise I heard was long – like 8 seconds – as if the plane was going more slowly than a military plane speed. There was another long noise about 30 seconds later.”

BBC Radio 5 spoke to a hotel worker in Digne, the closest town to the crash.

He said the plane was flying “very very low”.

As we wait to hear about the nationalities and identities of today’s victims, their devastated and shocked families are gathering at airports in Barcelona and Dusseldorf.

Spain France Plane Crash Families at Barcelona airport. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The remote area where the plane crashed is making access for rescue teams difficult.

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As the heartbreaking news reaches families, they gather at Dusseldorf airport in Germany.

Germany France Plane Crash Source: Frank Augstein

Today’s tragedy comes nearly 15 years after Concorde flight 4590 from Paris to New York crashed just after taking off on 25 July 2000, killing 113 people, sounding the death knell for commercial supersonic travel.

France Concorde Crash Source: Toshihiko Sato

Latest update on the crash itself: An aviation official has said the Germanwings crew did not send a distress signal.

The first pictures from the rescue teams gathering near the site, courtesy of ActuSecours.

PastedImage-41353 Source: © ActuSecours

PastedImage-45085 Source: © ActuSecours

PastedImage-89724 Source: © ActuSecours

PastedImage-5141 Source: © ActuSecours

There are reports in local German media that an entire class from a secondary school student exchange programme were on board the flight.

The school, Joseph Koenig Gymnasium, has a website which had details about the exchange. However, the site is no longer working.

Local website, Halterner Zeitung, says that 16 students and two teachers were on board.

According to Germanwings officials, who are giving a briefing at the moment, there were 67 German citizens on board the plane.

Germanwings says that families are still being informed about their loved ones.

The company’s officials were not able to put any light on why the plane descended, saying it was just hours after the incident and too early to say.

They also couldn’t confirm if a distress call was made by the crew.

The press conference is just finishing up now.

The steep descent lasted about eight minutes, Germanwings confirmed.

It lost contact with French air-traffic control at 6,000 feet in the air.

There are also reports that there were two babies on board the flight. So far we know there were:

  • 67 German citizens
  • 45 Spanish citizens
  • A number of citizens of Turkey

There are also fears that a student exchange class from a German secondary school were on board.

More from the Germanwings conference:

  • Officials said there should be no issue with the age of the plane – it was in commission for over 20 years. It was checked by technicians yesterday. 
  • The aircraft had made about 58,300 flight hours in 46,700 flights.
  • The captain had 10 years experience.

There is still no indication of why the plane crashed this morning.

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

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

Spain France Plane Crash Source: AP/Press Association Images

Family members comfort each other at Barcelona airport.

More from AP: Prime Minister Manuel Valls says a helicopter has managed to land near where the plane crashed in the Alps, but found no survivors.

PastedImage-11484 Source: ActuSecours

AccuWeather has issued an update about conditions at the crash site.

It says that weather will not be favourable for cleanup and rescue efforts over the next 12 hours.

“The weather is going to be deteriorating near the crash site over the next 12 hours as a storm system moves into the region, producing rain and high-elevation snow,” said meteorologist Eric Leister.

Winds are also forecast to strengthen tonight and tomorrow.

More and more distressed family members are arriving at Dusseldorf and Barcelona airports.

Spain France Plane Crash Source: AP/Press Association Images

Spain France Plane Crash Source: AP/Press Association Images

Spain France Plane Crash Source: AP/Press Association Images

 

Spain France Plane Crash Source: AP/Press Association Images

Germany France Plane Crash Source: Frank Augstein

President Barack Obama has been briefed on the crash, the White House has said in the last few minutes.

“US officials have been in touch with French, German, and Spanish authorities and have offered assistance. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and loved ones,” his assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism Lisa Monaco, National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said.

More from the crash site. 

A local lawmaker says the debris from the plane crash is spread over 100-200 metres.

Gilbert Sauvan, president of the general council of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, told the AP that “everything is pulverised”.

He said the largest pieces of debris are the size of a small car.

Sauvan said no one can access the site from the ground, but that helicopters are circling the area to get information and 500 firefighters and gendarmes are in the area.

The latest from Lufthansa…

France Plane Crash A rescue helicopter takes off from La Seyne les Alpes. Source: AP/Press Association Images

General David Galtier, head of France’s national police for the region:

Our priority is to bring to safety any possible survivors. We may have seen a body moving.

Regional French newspaper La Provence reports that a commercial plane crashed just a few miles away, at Mont Cimet, in September 1953, killing 42 people.

PastedImage-90225

Today’s crash is the first total loss of aircraft in Germanwings history.

CEO of parent firm Lufthansa, Carsten Spohr, described it as a “dark day”.

Some more news from the aviation industry in France.

The country’s leading air traffic controller union SNCTA called off a strike planned from Wednesday to Friday after news of the crash.

“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.

Lufthansa itself was hit by a four-day pilots’ strike last week, although this did not affect Germanwings.

School pupils on board?

It is now thought that the children from a German school who were on an exchange trip to Barcelona were all about 15 and 16 years of age.

“There were 16 children and two teachers who had spent a week here, poor things. The children were aged about 15,” Marti Pujol, mayor of the village of Llinars de Valles near Barcelona, told AFP.

Pujol said pupils at the Instituto Giola which the German visitors had attended during their exchange were being attended to by the Red Cross and psychologists.

The school’s website is temporarily unavailable but there is a tweet about the trip, dated 18 March.

School pupils on board

The mayor of the German town of Haltern where the school carrying 16 German students and two teachers is located has given a press conference.

He confirms that some parents learnt of the crash through the media.

Some students at the school were informed of the crash when it was likely that the plane was not going to land in Düsseldorf.

He confirms that classes will go ahead tomorrow but that it “will obviously not be a normal day of lessons”.

The Mayor of Haltern Bodo Klimpel says people at the school are “getting support form all sorts of authorities”.

The school will be open tomorrow but “it is obviously going to be very difficult for teachers”.

A spokesman for the French Civil Aviation authority has confirmed that the plane never sent out a distress signal.

AP reports that Eric Heraud said the plane lost radio contact at 10:30am Tuesday, but “never declared a distress alert itself.”

He said it was the combination of loss of radio contract with control and the plane’s descent which prompted the control service to declare a distress.

Reuters is now quoting the French Interior Minister who says one of the plane’s black boxes has been located.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will join German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the crash site tomorrow.

67 German citizens were on board the plane as were 45 Spanish citizens.

The chairman of Düsseldorf Airport has described today’s accident as “a black day for aviation”.

Ludger Dohm says there are about 150 counsellors at the airport who are supporting relatives and those there to collect passengers.

Lufthansa vice-president Heike Birlenbach giving press conference.

Starts by offering  ”sincerest sympathy” to families of passengers.

Airline is working on assumption that the crash was an accident.

The airline says it cannot give any further details about nationality of all the passengers.

Will do so later.

Heike Birlenbach asked why the flight departed half-an-hour later than scheduled.

Says she is unaware and clarifies that she personally is unaware.

The A320 plane involved in the accident is 25 years old. It entered service with Lufthansa in 1991 and was sold to subsidiary Germanwings in 2014.

In total, it has 58,313 flying hours.

The difficult terrain being faced by rescuers is clear in this footage of the crash site by broadcaster France 24.

crash site Source: Youtube/France 24

PastedImage-7634 Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Source: Youtube/France 24

Spain has declared three days of national mourning and a minute’s silence for tomorrow at 12pm local-time.

Germany’s football team, the current World Cup holders, will wear black armbands when they play on Australia in Kaiserslautern tomorrow.

Belgian news website La Libre is reporting that a 59-year-old Belgian man who lived in Barcelona was among the 150 victims of today’s disaster.

AFP reports that a third division Swedish football team, Dalkurd FF, had been booked on to the Barcelona-Dusseldorf flight, but changed their plans at the last minute this morning.

Upon arrival at Barcelona airport, the team decided the layover in Dusseldorf would be too long so they re-booked themselves onto three other flights flying via Zurich and Munich.

French journalist Eric Miguet has acquired these chilling photographs of debris scattered throughout the crash site, taken by emergency services at the scene.

One of them told him, “The plane completely disintegrated.”

This photo gives a sense of the resources deployed to scour the crash site throughout the day.

CA4qAnUW4AA5MF_ Source: French Interior Department

The effort includes:

300 police; five helicopters from the Gendarmerie Nationale; two units of the CRS (specialist Police Nationale unit); a C135FR refuelling airplane; seven helicopters from the Department of Defence; 380 fire-fighters; a reconnaissance plane and three helicopters from France’s Civil Defence; seven French and three German specialist transport investigators; two emergency ambulance units; two units to attend to psychological trauma.

Search suspended until morning

French national newspaper Le Figaro is reporting that searches have been called off for the night and will resume between 5.30 and 6 am on Wednesday.

Five police officers will reportedly stay at the crash site overnight, and will be joined in the morning by 10 medical examiners and a number of forensic investigators, who will begin identifying the victims at that time.

Their efforts could be hampered by rain and snow forecast for the Seyne-les-Alpes region tomorrow, amid temperatures of 2 to 6 degrees.

seyneweather Source: La Chaine Météo

Germanwings flights cancelled amid grief of staff

Several French media are reporting that some Germanwings flights have been cancelled tonight.

Le Figaro quotes Lufthansa spokesperson Florian Grenzdorfer as saying:

Some members of the Germanwings staff indicated to us that they did not feel capable of flying.

They gave personal reasons, and we respect them. As a result, we have had to cancel around 30 flights throughout Europe, seven of which were to depart from Dusseldorf tonight.

For passengers, we are offering to accommodate them on flights by other companies, or with train tickets.

An Israeli citizen was also on board today’s flight, according to reports.

The Jerusalem Post claims a Foreign Ministry spokesperson has confirmed that 39-year-old businessman Eyal Baum, who lived in Germany, is among the dead, and that his family has been informed.

There are unconfirmed reports from French newspaper Le Parisien that two Moroccans in their 20s are among the dead.

That would bring to seven the number of countries which have so far lost citizens in today’s disaster.

It has to be emphasised, however, that this information is provisional, and unfortunately likely to be added to over the coming hours.

The work has not ended this evening for emergency services at the crash site.

French media are reporting that around 65 police officers have set out tonight to plot a pedestrian route up the side of the mountain, to make it easier for forensic investigators to identify victims in the morning.

Regional emergency services chief Frédéric Petitjean told Le Parisien the area was extremely dangerous, with steep inclines and unstable surface conditions.

British victims are ‘likely’

Foreign ministers meet on Iran Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said it is “sadly likely” that UK citizens are among the dead.

In a statement, he said:

I don’t want to speculate on numbers of British nationals involved until we have completed our checks on all the passenger information.

However, based on the information available to us, it is sadly likely that there were some British nationals on board the flight.

We are providing consular assistance and will give further help as more information becomes available.

Additional reporting by Nicky Ryan, Rónán Duffy, Dan Mac Guill, Associated Press and AFP. 

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