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flight 4U9525

No obvious reasons why plane crashed into the Alps

French air traffic controllers, not the two pilots, issued a ‘mayday’ signal after the plane disappeared from their radar.

AT 9.40AM YESTERDAY, a Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf crashed in the Digne area of the French Alps.

All 150 people on board flight number 4U9525, mainly Spaniards and Germans, are feared dead.

The Airbus A320 plunged for eight minutes into an inaccessible mountain area in southeastern France.

Naturally, there has been speculation as to why the plane crashed.

Lufthansa, who owns Germanwings, confirmed the aircraft had been grounded for an hour on Monday for repairs to the nose-wheel landing doors, but insisted the issue was not safety-related.

A spokesperson said the plane safely completed several flights after the repair, before the accident.

France Airbus New Plane An Airbus A320 on a test flight over France last year. Frederic Lancelot Frederic Lancelot

French air traffic controllers, not the two pilots, issued a ‘mayday’ signal after the plane disappeared from their radar.

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

Germanwings said the jet underwent a “thorough check” in summer 2013, noting the pilot had more than 6,000 hours of flight experience, spanning a decade.

Worldwide, 3,606 A320s are in operation.

Similar to the Boeing 737, the single-aisle, twin-engine jet is used to connect cities between one and five hours apart.

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

Before yesterday, the last crash of an A320 was AirAsia Flight 8501, which fell into the Java sea off the coast of Indonesia on 28 December last.

Airbus, a European plane-making and aerospace group, also makes nearly identical versions of the A320: the smaller A318 and A319 and the stretched A321. An additional 2,500 of those jets are flying.

The last time a passenger jet crashed in France was the 2000 Concorde accident, which left 113 people dead — 109 in the plane and four on the ground.

‘Thorough investigation’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with both French president Francois Hollande and Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy about the tragedy yesterday, immediately cancelling all other appointments.

Germany France Plane Crash Michael Sohn Michael Sohn

At a briefing in Berlin, Merkel told reporters she would travel to the crash site today, 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,” 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.”

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

Germany France Plane Crash Frank Augstein Frank Augstein

Hollande described the crash as “a tragedy on our soil”, while Rajoy said “Like everyone, I lament this incredibly sad and dramatic accident.”

rescue Rescue teams gathering near the crash site. © ActuSecours © ActuSecours

French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said debris from the crash has been located at about 2,000 meters altitude in the Alps.

Brandet told BFM television he expected “an extremely long and extremely difficult” search and rescue operation because of the area’s remoteness.

The plane’s black box was found yesterday evening.

Local councillor Gilbert Sauvan told Les Echos newspaper, “The plane is disintegrated.”

“The largest debris is the size of a car,” he added.

Additional reporting: AFP and Órla Ryan

Background: Scale of horror emerges as questions remain over Alps plane crash

Related: 16 German schoolchildren on board crashed plane

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