Germanwings Airbus A320 plane crash: Flight 4U9525 down in French Alps with 150 feared dead

Plane was travelling between Barcelona and Dusseldorf

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The Independent Online

A major search and rescue operation is under way after an Airbus A320 operated by the Germanwings airline crashed in mountains in southern France.

The plane was carrying 150 people between Barcelona and Dusseldorf when it came down in the French Alps around 100 miles north of Nice, according to officials.

In a live TV address President Francois Hollande said the site of the crash was "a very difficult area to access", and said that there were not expected to be any survivors.

Read more: Live updates on French Airbus A320 crash
Germanwings crew 'sent out a distress signal'
First images of crash area emerge as search effort begins

While initial French media reports cited aviation officials as saying that 142 passengers and six crew were on board at the time, that figure was revised to 144 passengers and six crew in a Germanwings statement.

 

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A helicopter of the French National Gendarmerie is seen in Seyne, south-eastern France, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps

Shortly after French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that the plane's black box has been located, a French Interior Ministry official told AP that the vital piece of equipment has been recovered from the site in the French Alps.

 At a press conference, the airline said the plane was last inspected yesterday and that the pilot was very experienced, with years of service and thousands of hours of flying time.

French officials said a police helicopter had located the crash site and first items of debris near the small town of Barcelonnette in the Alpes-de-Hautes-Provences.

Speaking on BFM TV, French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said debris was found at an altitude of around 2,000 metres (6,500ft), and that the remoteness of the area meant "an extremely long and difficult" search operation was to be expected.

Mr Hollande said there were likely to be a number of German nationals on board the flight, and that he would be speaking shortly with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

"This is a tragedy on our soil," Mr Hollande said.

flight-aware.jpgThe French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, said that details of the crash remained unclear and that interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve was heading to the region.

Germanwings is a low-budget subsidiary of Lufthansa, and in a statement the parent airline said it still "hopes to find survivors".

CEO Carsten Spohr said: "We do not yet know what has happened to flight 4U 9525. My deepest sympathy goes to the families and friends of our passengers and crew on 4U 9525. If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa."

 

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The arrivals board shows flight 4U 9525 without a status at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany

According to flight tracking website Flightradar24, the A320 reached cruising altitude at 10.27am CET (9.27am GMT), but started losing altitude shortly afterwards at 10.31am.

The French interior ministry said the plane was flying at just 6,800ft when it dropped off radar altogether at about 10.47am.

 

The A320-211 was 24 years old, having made its first flight in 1990. Airbus says there are currently 6,191 A320 aircraft in operation across the world.

After initially writing on Twitter that it was working to establish its "own information", Germanwings later said it was "sorry to confirm that flight 4U 9525 had crashed over the French Alps".

 

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A man who appears to have waited for the missing flight 4U 9525 reacts at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany

 

"It is A320-type aircraft", the statement in German read. "144 passengers and six crew members were on board.

"The thoughts and prayers of Lufthansa and Germanwings are with families and friends of the passengers and crew, who will be cared for.

"All employees of Germanwings and Lufthansa are in mourning.

... Please monitor our website http://t.co/5mVrxAZ08K for periodic updates.

— Germanwings (@germanwings) March 24, 2015

The airline had earlier requested the public "monitor our website", though the website appeared to be down in the immediate aftermath of the crash.

Airbus told the Associated Press it was aware of reports of the crash but was unable to confirm any details.

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