France Crash: Germanwings Plane Obliterated, Data Recorder Found

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Latest developments:

• 2:15 p.m. ET: A Dutch citizen and a Belgian — the latter a resident of Barcelona — were among those on the Germanwings flight, according to those countries’ foreign ministries.

2:15 p.m.: Sixteen students and two teachers from Haltern, Germany, were aboard that plane, said Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann.

1:47 p.m.: Haltern’s mayor, Bodo Klimpel, said the students and teachers were heading home after taking part in a foreign exchange program.

“The whole city is shocked, and we can feel it everywhere,” Klimpel said.

1:42 p.m. ET: Speaking from Peru, German President Joachim Gauck said that he woke up “horrified to hear about the terrible plane crash.”

“I am deeply saddened, as so many people back in Germany are,” Gauck said. “I can only imagine the grief, horror and pain the affected families are going through.”

• 1:29 p.m. ET: One of the data recorders, the so-called black boxes, from the crashed Germanwings plane has been found, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Tuesday. “This black box will be taken to France’s aviation accident investigation bureau this evening, and will be examined in the hours to come,” Cazeneuve said. The recorder was found a few hours after the crash and “will immediately be examined to help the judicial investigation move forward quickly,” he said.

Full story:

A Germanwings Airbus A320 plane crashed Tuesday in the Alps in southeastern France with 150 people on board, obliterating the plane and sending shockwaves through at least three European nations.

Flight 9525 took off just after 10 a.m. Tuesday from Barcelona, Spain, for Dusseldorf, Germany, with 144 passengers — among them, two babies — and six crew members on board. It went down at 10:53 a.m. (5:53 a.m. ET) in a remote area near Digne-les-Bains in the Alpes de Haute Provence region.

Helicopter crews found the airliner in pieces, none of them bigger than a small car, and human remains strewn for several hundred meters, according to Gilbert Sauvan, a high-level official in the Alpes de Haute Provence region who is being briefed on the operation.

Authorities may not be able to retrieve any bodies Tuesday, according to Sauvan, with the frozen ground complicating the effort. Wednesday may not be much easier, with snow in the forecast.

Spanish and German officials moved to join hundreds of French firefighters and police in the area, working together to help in the recovery effort and try to figure out exactly what happened. As of Tuesday evening, there were few clues.

crash map

One of the aircraft’s data recorders, the so-called black boxes, has been found, according to French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, but it was too early to tell what it would say about the crash. Members of France’s aviation accident investigation bureau were expected to have the recorder later Tuesday, he added, though a final analysis is still a ways off.

“We don’t know much about the flight and the crash yet,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “And we don’t know the cause.”

Students, teachers among the victims

Relatives of those believed to be on the flight, fearing the worst, gathered at the Barcelona airport, where a crisis center has been set up. French authorities set up a chapel near the crash site.

Those aboard included a “high number of Spaniards, Germans and Turks,” according to Spain’s King Felipe VI. Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann said that it’s believed 67 people, or nearly half of those on the plane, are German citizens.

The airline started in 2002 and was taken over by Lufthansa seven years later as its low-cost airline, handling an increasing number of midrange flights around Europe.

Sixteen students and two teachers from one German high school, called Joseph Koenig Gymnasium, were among those booked on Flight 9525, according to Florian Adamik, a municipal official in Haltern, the town where the school is located. A crisis center has been established at the city hall in Haltern, which is about 77 kilometers (48 miles) north of Dusseldorf’s airport.

While she couldn’t say definitively that every single one of them made the flight, Sylvia Loehrmann, an education minister in a region that includes Haltern, said on German television she believes students and teachers were on board the flight.

“We can say with relative certainty that we have these victims,” Loehrmann said.