Germanwings crash victims' bodies arrive back in Germany 11 weeks after disaster

Relatives of the victims will be allowed to visit the coffins inside a hangar in Dusseldorf

The Lufthansa cargo plane carrying the remains of 44 victims of the Germanwings crash lands in Dusseldorf, Germany
The Lufthansa cargo plane carrying the remains of 44 victims of the Germanwings crash lands in Dusseldorf, Germany

A cargo plane carrying the remains of 44 victims of the Germanwings crash home from Marseille, France has landed in Duesseldorf.

The MD-11 jet belonging to Lufthansa, Germanwings' parent company, touched down late last night at the German airport where Flight 9525 was supposed to land 24 March.

Parents and relatives of the victims, among them students from a high school in the town of Haltern, will be allowed to visit the coffins inside a hangar in Duesseldorf today.

A convoy of hearses will then head for Haltern, passing Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium, the school the teens attended.

Authorities say the co-pilot of the Germanwings plane headed from Barcelona to Duesseldorf purposely slammed the Airbus A320 into a French mountainside.

Coffins are loaded on to the plane at Marseille Provence Airport

"The families are in denial. They cannot and do not want to realise that their children are dead," said Elmar Giemulla, a lawyer for families of 34 of the victims. "It will be brutal when they see the coffins, but it is necessary, because they need closure and that's only possible if they accept that their children are dead."

Giemulla's clients include relatives of the 16 students, who were coming home from a school exchange programme when they died.

"Now, if the coffins are returning, the parents will know: This is really a fact, it's not just news," he said.

Most of the families in Haltern and beyond have been trying to cope with their pain in private, and many of the burials expected in the German town and nearby villages over the next few days and weeks will be family affairs. Remains of the rest of the victims, who had 19 different nationalities, will be sent back over the coming weeks. Nearly half of the victims were German and 47 others were Spanish.

Rescue workers and investigators collect debris at the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus A320, near Seyne-les-Alpes

It has taken several months to return the remains in part because of errors on official death certificates that rendered them invalid. There were also challenges finding and identifying the remains in the remote area where the crash happened because the plane was travelling so fast that its tail slammed into the mountainside in a split second after the nose did, vaporizing much of the aircraft and its contents. Prosecutors in France and Germany believe Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally crashed the Airbus A320. They say he had been hiding psychological problems from his employer.

The office of Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, who is leading a French investigation into the crash, said he will meet with victims' relatives Thursday in Paris to go over the discovery of DNA evidence and explain the details of handing over remains.

Prosecutors say Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane

Robin expects 300 to 400 people to attend the closed-door meeting.

The family of two Australian victims, Carol Friday and her son Greig, won't be there, said her brother, Malcolm Coram. Coram visited the crash site about a month ago, and told The Associated Press it was simply too far to return again so soon.

Coram said he wasn't sure when his sister's and nephew's remains will be returned to Australia, but he expects it will be sometime before August. He said family members have been happy with the way that Germanwings and authorities have communicated with them.

"We get treated very well," he said. "What's done is done for us - we just sort of want it to end."

AP

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