Germanwings Airbus A320 plane crash: Eyewitnesses recall seeing aircraft skim the mountain tops before it came down

Witness recalls seeing the aircraft and thinking: 'that’s not going to make it over the mountains'

John Lichfield
Tuesday 24 March 2015 15:00 GMT
French emergency services workers gather in Seyne, south-eastern France, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps
French emergency services workers gather in Seyne, south-eastern France, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps (BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)

An Airbus A320 passenger jet flew into the side of a mountain in the French Alps after skimming the mountain tops in a steep descent that killed all 150 people on board.

All 144 passengers and six crew aboard the flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf – including a German schoolparty of 16 pupils and two teachers - are believed to have died when it crashed into the side of the 9,000 metre-high Estrop massif 100 miles north of Nice.

The regional newspaper La Provence quoted a local mountain guide as saying: “I took a dozen gendarmes up to the crash scene. From the Mariaud pass, I could see the wreckage. It was obvious to me that the plane had flown into the side of the mountain.”

The owner of a campground near the crash site, Pierre Polizzi, said he heard the plane making curious noises shortly before it crashed.

An helicopter of civil security services flies over the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps (ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)

"At 11.30, I heard a series of loud noises in the air. 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," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "The noise I heard was long - like 8 seconds - as if the plane was going more slowly than a military plane. There was another long noise after about 30 seconds."

Sébastien Giroud, the owner of a saw-works in Prads-Haute-Bléones, said that he had glimpsed the plane for two or three seconds as it struggled over the village. “It was very low, only 1,500 or 2,000 metres and it seemed to be falling. I said to myself: ‘that’s not going to make it over the mountains. I never heard a thing.”

Dominique, a shop-owner in the hamlet of La Javie, said that he and other villagers had seen the airliner flying unusually low but had not seen or heard the crash.

Eric Mauger, a goat farmer in Prads-Haute-Bléone, the nearest hamlet to the crash scene, said that the plane came down high on the mountains well-above the snow line.

“We are the nearest to the catastrophe and we saw and heard nothing,” he said. “As the crow flies it is not far, but we saw nothing, not even smoke.”

Relatives of passengers killed in Germanwings plane crash arrive at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany (AP/Frank Augstein)

Bruno Lambert, a mountain guide in the same village, said: “The plane came down in very steep mountain terrain, which is plagued by avalanches at this time of year. There was an avalanche just ten minutes ago.”

A woman living in Verlet three kilometres from the crash said: “I heard a dull noise, like an avalanche starting or like the explosions they use to force avalanches. Then several fighter planes flew over the village, probably looking for the wreckage.”

“Around mid-day I started to see smoke rising…Some village people climbed up to the Mariaud pass and they could see the wreckage from there.”

Flight 4U 9525 vanished from radar screens at about 10.47 am local time, 46 minutes after take-off from Barcelona. French officials said that debris had been found on the 2,961 metre-high Estrop massif near the small town of Barcelonette in the Alpes-de-Hautes-Provence.

French aviation officials denied earlier reports that the stricken aircraft had sent out a “mayday” signal. They said that it was French air traffic control which issued the distress signal when the plane disappeared from radar screens.

The French Prime Minister Maunel Valls, addressing parliament this afternoon, said: “no explanation for the crash can be excluded”.

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