A passenger jet carrying 150 people owned by Lufthansa’s budget airline, Germanwings, crashed in a mountainous region in southern France on Tuesday morning, with French authorities reporting no survivors.
“The circumstances of the crash have not yet been clarified but it seems no one has survived it,” French President François Hollande said.
By nightfall the plane’s black box had been found and handed over to investigators. Hundreds of firefighters, soldiers and emergency workers continued to search among the wreckage. The remote area and deteriorating weather conditions mean it is likely to take days for the bodies to be recovered, according to the French authorities.
About 67 German nationals were on board, according to a preliminary count, Germanwings chief executive Thomas Winkelmann told reporters. Spain’s deputy prime minister said that 45 of the passengers had Spanish names.
Two teachers and 16 school children from Haltern am See’s Joseph-König Gymnasium high school were among those killed, according to local paper Halterner Zeitung in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
“We don’t know much about the flight. We should refrain from any speculation on the flight’s crash. This will be investigated thoroughly.”
The Airbus A320 airplane belonging to Germanwings crashed in the southern French Alpine region of Barcelonette, about 100 kilometers or 65 miles north of the French Riviera city, Nice.
It was cloudy and rainy in the region at the time of the crash. The flight was on its way from Barcelona to Düsseldorf and had 144 passengers and six crew on board, according to Germanwings.
Addressing the media on Tuesday afternoon, Chancellor Angela Merkel, said: “This is a shock for the people in Germany, for French and Spanish people who are now in deep mourning.”
“We don’t know much about the flight. We should refrain from any speculation on the flight’s crash. This will be investigated thoroughly,” she said.
“What preoccupies us now is the suffering this catastrophe has brought upon so many people. My thoughts and condolences and those of the whole government are now with the people who have lost their lives, including many of our fellow countrymen.”
The Germanwings jet that crashed today was 24 years old and has been flying for Lufthansa since 1991, the plane’s maker Airbus said on its website. It departed from Barcelona at 10:01 a.m. local time, and disappeared from the radar 40 minutes later, Mr. Winkelmann of Germanwings said.
“The airplane had reached an altitude of 38,000 feet, the regular height. The plane left this altitude again after about one minute and entered into a decline. This decline took about eight minutes in total,” Mr. Winkelmann said.
“The airplane lost contact with the French aviation authority at 10:53 a.m. at an altitude of about 6,000 feet. The plane then crashed,” Mr. Winkelmann said.
The airline said it was trying to clarify whether the pilots had made a distress call, after contradictory reports.
Germanwings was set up in 2002 and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lufthansa in 2009. The low-cost carrier, based at Cologne-Bonn airport, operates a relatively modern fleet of Airbus A320 and A319 aircraft. The airline has not suffered any crashes since it was founded.
Today’s crash is one of the worst in the history of German aviation.
The last crash of a Lufthansa plane was in 2003, when two people died when an aircraft drove off the runway at Warsaw airport. In 1974, a Lufthansa Boeing 747 crashed during take-off in Nairobi, Kenya, killing 59 people.
The German government announced that it was sending air safety experts to the site of the crash. Transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt and foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, are to travel later today to the French region were the crash occurred and Ms. Merkel will travel there on Wednesday.
Mr. Steinmeier said that his ministry was in close contact with the French authorities. “In these difficult times, our thoughts are with all those who fear their relatives were among the passengers or the crew,” he said.
Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said that he had spoken with Chancellor Merkel and the Spanish King, Felipe VI, who is in Paris on a state visit.
“I am very sad at this very dramatic accident,” Mr. Rajoy said. “We are going to do everything we can … to help the families, to give them our support.”
Pierre-Henry Brandet, a French interior ministry spokesman, said that plane debris has been localized.
“Rescue teams have been helicoptered to the area,” he said. “A 240-man emergency team has been dispatched to the area to help local services and mountain rescue experts.”
The accident happened in an alpine region known for skiing, hiking and rafting, but which is difficult for rescue services to reach.
Come evening, teams from Airbus, Lufthansa and Germanwings were heading to the site of the crash to support the search and investigation.
Airbus has confirmed that it will carry out an investigation into the causes of the crash. An Allianz spokesperson told Handelsblatt that it was the leading insurer for the aircraft.
Lufthansa shares were initially down more than 4 percent on the Frankfurt exchange but recovered partially to trade 2.5 percent lower at 2:20 p.m. GMT. The airline has been hit by repeated strikes in the past 12 months.
Gilbert Kreijger, Franziska Scheven and Siobhán Dowling are editors with Handelsblatt Global Edition, covering companies and markets. Allison Williams contributed to this story. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org