All 150 feared dead in France air crash
AN AIRBUS A320 crash in southern France may have claimed the lives of all 150 people on board, in one of the worst plane disasters in the country.
Flight 9525 operated by Germanwings, the low-cost subsidiary of Lufthansa, went down in the Digne region about an hour north of Marseille en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf in Germany, according to the German air-traffic control authorities.
The airline said that none of its aircraft has ever been involved in a crash prior to yesterday's accident, adding that the aircraft underwent a thorough check in summer 2013. It said the pilot had more than 10 years' experience.
Wreckage has been sighted and the government has called for a crisis meeting. French President Francois Hollande said there are unlikely to be any survivors.
"This is a tragedy that has happened on French soil," Mr Hollande said in Paris. "We need to show all support in the face of this drama."
Spanish King Felipe VI cut short his state visit to France on news of the tragedy, with a number of Spanish nationals believed to be among the dead, along with Germans and possibly Turks. Spain's Deputy Prime Minister has said that 45 of the passengers were Spanish.
The crash is likely to be the most fatal in four decades in France. The German air-traffic control authorities said the plane went down at 10.37am local time. It nosedived for eight minutes, said Germanwings.
The crew did not send a distress signal, French civil aviation authorities told Agence France-Presse.
"The crew did not send a mayday. It was air traffic control that decided to declare the plane was in distress because there was no contact with the crew of the plane," the source said.
The plane, which is 24 years old, crashed in rugged, snowy terrain, according to Mr Hollande, who is coordinating a crisis response with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Dr Merkel expressed shock at the crash, her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said. She also spoke to Mr Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy by telephone and "cancelled her appointments to follow developments", the spokesman, said in a statement.
At press time, firemen and rescue teams were trying to reach the site, which was said to be "inaccessible" to ground vehicles.
Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said on Twitter the airline had no immediate details on the crash, describing it as a "dark day".
"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. We hope to find survivors."
A witness who was skiing near the crash site told a French television channel he "heard an enormous noise" around the time of the disaster. A French police helicopter dispatched to the site of the crash reported spotting debris in a mountain range known as Les Trois Eveches, which reaches 1,400m in altitude.
France's accident investigation bureau, the BEA, said yesterday that it was sending a team to investigate the site of the crash.