25 Mar 2015

Germanwings crash updates: what we know so far

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond confirms at least three UK citizens were among the 150 people thought to have died when a passenger plane crashed in the Alps.

  • Search operation resumed but all passengers and crew are assumed to have died
  • Black box recorder found damaged
  • Dead included babies, schoolchildren, opera singers
  • Airbus A320 passed routine safety checks before take-off
  • Lufthansa treating disaster as an accident

The search operation for the Airbus A320 resumed this morning, with teams hoping to reach the crash scene on foot after initially flying over in helicopters.

French president Francois Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy are set to visit the scene later.

The Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf came down in a remote area of the French Alps on Tuesday morning.

Within hours of the crash, the French authorities said they did not expect to find any survivors.

Images of the scene show debris scattered over a wide area among steep mountain ravines.

Read more: Germanwings plane crash: 'Three Britons killed' 

Local MP Christophe Castaner, who flew over the crash site, said on Twitter: “Nothing is left but debris and bodies. Flying over the crash site with the interior minister – a horror – the plane is totally destroyed.”

Nothing is left but debris and bodies. Christophe Castaner

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in an interview with radio station RTL that the crash was unlikely to have been caused by a terror attack.

He said: “There is a concentration of debris in a space that`s almost 1.5 hectares – admittedly a wide area because the impact was violent – but that means that the plane did not blow up so it`s not the most likely hypothesis.

Germanwings crash site (Reuters)

He confirmed that a black box found on Tuesday was the cockpit voice recorder, which was damaged but may still provide clues about what happened to the plane.

Lufthansa official Heike Birlenbach said: “For the time being, we say it`s an accident, Aything else would be speculation.”

The plane did not blow up so it`s not the most likely hypothesis. Bernard Cazeneuve

First victims identified

The plane was carrying 144 passengers and six crew. Two babies are known to be among the dead.

Among those travelling on the plane with her baby was Marina Bandres, who came from Jaca in the Spanish Pyrenees and lived in Britain, local mayor Victor Barrio said.

Mr Hammond said the Foreign Office was aware of three British victims but added: “We cannot rule out the possibility that there are further British people involved.”

A party of 16 German exchange students from the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in the town of Haltern-am-See were on board.

Germanwings believe 67 Germans were on board the plane. Spain’s deputy prime minister said 45 passengers had Spanish names. One Belgian citizen was also on board.

The Australian government has said two Australians were among the dead.

Israel confirmed that one of its citizens, named as Eyal Baum, had also been on board the plane.

Two opera singers, Kazakhstan-born bass baritone Oleg Bryjak and German contralto Maria Radner, died while returning to Dusseldorf after performing in Wagner’s Siegfried at the Liceu opera house in Barcelona.

Ms Birlenbach said the airline knew the names of the passengers but were unable to confirm their nationalities.

Germanwings aircraft (Getty)

Safety checks passed

She confirmed that the plane has passed its last routine check on Monday and could not explain why it took off 20 minutes late.

“Only if those checks are OK are aircrafts allowed to fly,” she said.

Germanwings said on Wednesday that maintenance work on a flap covering the landing gear had been carried out but it was a noise issue not a safety issue, and the plane was cleared to fly 24 hours before taking off.

The carrier said the captain was an experienced pilot who had been with the airline and its parent company Lufthansa for more than 10 years, clocking up 6,000 flying hours on this Airbus model.

Confusion over last moments

Initial reports said the pilots had sent a distress signal, but a spokesman for the French civil aviation authority later said the plane lost radio contact at 10.30am local time but “never declared a distress alert itself”.

A combination of loss of radio contact and the plane’s descent that prompted the control service to declare an alert, he said.

There was also confusion over the length of time it took the plane to descend.

Germanwings chief executive Thomas Winkelmann told reporters the descent lasted eight minutes, but media reports today say the plane may have taken 18 minutes to crash before losing radio contact at 10.30am

Flight 4U 9525 was due to take off from Barcelona at 9.35 local time but did not leave until 10.01am. It was due to arrive in Dusseldorf at 11.55 local time.

French civil aviation said it reached a cruising height of 38,000 feet. At 10.30am they lost radio contact with the plane and it began to descend.

Radar and air traffic control contact broke off at 10.53am. The plane crashed at an altitude of 6,550ft in Meolans-Revels, near the ski resort of Barcelonnette.

The world’s media descend on one of France’s most remote corners: pic.twitter.com/4Bx4XzlYsp

— Jonathan Rugman(@jrug) March 25, 2015