Black box found in France air crash
INVESTIGATORS scoured the pulverised debris of a German airliner yesterday for bodies and clues to the Airbus' mysterious eight-minute descent and crash in the French Alps, killing all 150 people aboard.
But, for now, it seems unlikely the crash - the worst on French soil in four decades - was caused by a terrorist attack.
Hundreds of firefighters and police officers near the hamlet of Le Vernet launched a massive operation at the rugged crash site, accessible only by helicopter or by an arduous hike in on foot. The region is known for the skiing, hiking and rafting.
In Paris, experts were to analyse one of Flight 4U9525's black boxes for clues as to why the Germanwings Airbus A320 went down in good weather.
The examination of the damaged black box, which records conversations and noises in the cockpit, would begin "in the coming hours", pledged French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. A second black box, in this case recording flight data, has yet to be found.
Mr Cazeneuve said the fact that debris was scattered over a small area of about 1½ha showed the plane likely did not explode in the air, meaning a terrorist attack was not the most likely scenario.
In Washington, the White House said the crash did not appear to have been caused by a terrorist attack.
Germanwings, the growing low-cost subsidiary of the prestigious Lufthansa carrier, had an unblemished safety record.
Weather did not appear to be a factor in the crash, with conditions calm at the time, French weather officials said.
Lufthansa said it was working on the assumption that the crash was an "accident".
"Anything else would be speculation," Lufthansa vice-president Heike Birlenbach told reporters in Barcelona.
She said the 24-year-old Airbus A320 had undergone its last routine safety check on Monday.
No distress signal was sent and the crew failed to respond to desperate attempts at contact from ground control.
Aerial photographs of the crash site showed smouldering wreckage and a piece of the fuselage with six windows strewn across the mountainside.
"We saw an aircraft that had literally been ripped apart, the bodies are in a state of destruction, there is not one intact piece of wing or fuselage," Brice Robin, prosecutor for the city of Marseille, told Reuters after flying over the site.
Said one investigator: "The biggest body parts we identified are no bigger than a briefcase."
The plane was carrying six crew and 144 passengers, including 16 German teenagers returning home from a school trip.
Germanwings said 72 Germans were believed to have been on board, while Spain said 45 people with Spanish-sounding names were on the flight.
Victims were also feared from Colombia, Argentina, Australia, Japan, Belgium, Denmark, Mexico and Britain, according to officials from these countries.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS