Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has confirmed two Australians were on board the Germanwings Airbus A320 that went down over the French Alps yesterday.
A mother and son from Victoria – Carol and Greig Friday – were among the 150 people on-board the ill-fated flight. All passengers and crew were killed in the crash.
Ms Bishop declined to release further details out of respect for the privacy of the victims’ family.
“We are coordinating with the french authorities,” she said.
Two consular officials are on their way to the French town of Gap where they will liaise with French authorities and seek to identify any bodies, she said.
“Our thoughts are with the families,” she said.
The black box flight data recorder from the Airbus has been recovered, French authorities have reported.
No distress call was made from the Germanwings plane before the crash, French authorities said.
A French police officer said after returning from the crash site “The biggest body pieces we have seen are no bigger than this small carry case”.
The White House has stated the crash does not appear to have been a terrorist attack, despite the fact no distress call was made from the plane before the crash.
The flight was heading north after climbing from Barcelona across the Mediterranean. It swung left to fly inland en route to Dusseldorf and soon after made its sharp, final descent.
The aircraft made an eight-minute descent after reaching cruising altitude to crash into the French Alps about 100 kilometres north of Nice.
Memorials for the 16 students killed in the Germanwings 4U 9525 crash in the French Alps have attracted grieving families and other pupils still in shock to pay respects.
Not all passengers’ nationalities have been realised but it is understood 45 had Spanish names and 67 had German names – one is believed to be Belgian.
Details of the passengers are being held secret until all families have been notified.
Reports from the scene of the crash painted a grim picture. Early reports were of a plane “ripped apart” and no survivors were found.
“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,” Bruce Robin, prosecutor for the city of Marseille, told Reuters.
The terrain and bad weather meant authorities said they wouldn’t begin to remove bodies until Wednesday.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said all is being done to understand what happened and help the families of the victims.
“We don’t know the reasons for the crash, we clearly fear that the 150 passengers and personnel have been killed considering the circumstances of the crash,” Mr Valls said.
US President Barack Obama sent messages of support to Spain and Germany.
“Germany and Spain are among our closest allies,” he said. “Our message to them is as a steadfast friend and ally, America stands with them at this moment of sorrow.”
Two opera singers were confirmed among the dead, the Gran Teatre del Liceu said on Twitter.
The two singers Oleg Bryjak from Kazakhstan and German Maria Radner were flying to Dusseldorf after performing in Barcelona.
Radner was flying with her family including her small child, Spanish media reported.
— Gran Teatre Liceu (@Liceu_cat) March 24, 2015
Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings held a press conference in Barcelona where vice-president Heike Birlenbach said the crash was being considered an accident.
“We will do our utmost to also support relatives, friends of passengers on board. We are looking into options to bring them to the scene, which is not yet confirmed, so we will have to see if that makes sense,” she said, according to a Deutsche Welle report.
The plane took off at 9.01am local time and spent 41 minutes in the air.
— Harry (@NewsHazbail) March 24, 2015
The UK paper the Telegraph reports that the A320 that disintegrated in the crash had been grounded for a few hours on Monday to have repairs done on the front wheel bay doors which were making a noise, according to a Lufthansa spokesman.
On Tuesday after the crash Germanwings pilots and crew responded to the perceived safety issues and refused to fly, which resulted in several flights being cancelled and passengers told to find other transport, according to reports.
“The repair was purely to fix a noise that the door was making, and the aircraft was flying again from 10am on Monday,” the spokesman said, adding the plane had flown safely after the repairs.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said the crash was a “shock” to the German and Spanish people.
She said she would cancel her appointments for the day to focus on updates, before travelling to the crash area later today, ready to visit the site on Wednesday.
“I will travel there tomorrow to get my own impression and to speak with local officials,” she told Deutsche Welle.
German crash investigators have been sent to help investigate the crash with French air-crash investigators.
She said in conversation with French President Francois Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy the three heads of state agreed to do everything possible to establish the cause of the crash, DW reported.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott made brief comments as he arrived at Parliament House on Wednesday, when he expressed condolences for the families of the two Australians who died in the crash.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with, our consular officials are doing what they can for the families,” he said.
UPDATE – 2.38am
Two babies are among 150 dead after an Airbus A320 plane operated by Lufthansa’s Germanwings budget airline crashed in the southern French Alps.
Flight 4U9525 was en route from Barcelona in Spain, to Dusseldorf in Germany when the pilots declared an emergency at 10:47am local time before the plane fell rapidly to around 5000 feet, from an altitude of 38,000 feet, in just eight minutes.
Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann confirmed at a press conference in Cologne that there were 144 passengers on board – including two infants – two pilots and four cabin crew.
Mr Winkelmann said the airline believes there were about 67 German nationals and 45 Spaniards on board, however these figures could alter.
Sixteen schoolchildren and two teachers were also on the aircraft. It’s not known whether any Australians were on the flight.
“This is a tragedy and a very sad day for Germanwings and the entire Lufthansa family,” Mr Winkelmann said.
“A team of Germanwimngs is currently in Dusseldorf in order to talk to the families…and we have teams heading to the crash in oder to help investigator the accident as best they can.
“We want to find out as soon as possible why our airbus did have this accident.
“Our prayers an thoughts are exclusively with the victims families, and obviously, with the authorities, we will do everything in order to clarify the cause of this accident as quickly as possible and as comprehensibly as possible.”
Despite the earlier reports, the airline is unsure whether a distress call was issued.
The company spokesman said that it had conflicting information about the issue from air traffic controllers.
French aviation sources have also given contradictory information on this point.
Mr Winkelmann said the plane’s captain had more than 10 years’ flight experience with Lufthansa and Germanwings, including 6,000 flight hours with this model airbus.
The aircraft was 24 years old and was bought by Lufthansa in 1991.
It underwent a routine technical check by Lufthansa technicians in Dusseldorf the day before the crash.
It had received a major inspection in the summer of 2013. French President Francois Hollande said he believed none of the passengers or crew on board the plane had survived.
“The conditions of the accident, which have not yet been clarified, lead us to think there are no survivors,” he said.
“We must feel grief because this is a tragedy that happened on our soil.
“I want to make sure that there have been no other consequences as the accident happened in a very difficult area to access, and I do not know yet if there were houses nearby. We will know in the next few hours. In the meantime, we must show support.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy expressed his shock about the accident.
“I have had the opportunity to have a phone conversation with the general chancellor, about this very unfortunate and very sad accident,” he told reporters.
“I have spoken to the king (Spanish King Philip VI) who is in France and the head of the Catalan government about what’s happened.
“All I can tell you is obviously I am very sad, as are many, and in this very dramatic accident we are going to do everything we can in our power, in our hands, and with the families…give them support.”
A spokesman for the DGAC aviation authority said the airplane crashed near the town of Barcelonnette, about 100 kilometres north of the French Riviera city of Nice.
Mr Winkelmann said the Airbus A320 started descending one minute after reaching its cruising height and continued losing altitude for eight minutes.
“The aircraft’s contact with French radar, French air traffic controllers ended at 10:53 am (local time) at an altitude of about 6,000 feet. The plane then crashed,” he said.
Earlier, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said in a statement via Twitter: “We do not yet know what has happened to flight 4U 9525. 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.”
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said a helicopter managed to land near where the plane crashed in the Alps, but found no survivors.
German chancellor Angela Merkel offered her sympathies to the passengers’ families.
“This is a time and hour of great sorrow and grief,” she told reporters.
“We feel uncertain about the precise cause of the accident. Any speculation on the cause of the accident is not relevant.”
We have been informed of an accident involving an A320 Family aircraft and all efforts are now going towards assessing the situation. — Airbus (@Airbus) March 24, 2015
Investigators head to accident site
Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who said debris from the plane had already been found, was heading to the scene.
The aircraft took off at about 8.55pm GMT.
According to the Guardian, Digne police captain Benoît Zeisser told BFM TV that the area of the crash was “very difficult to access”, with areas of snow in the crash zone measuring between 500m and 2000m.
“We are in the process of doing everything possible to arrive at the location,” he said.
Germanwings is a low-cost airline found in 2002. Since 2009 it has been owned by Lufthansa, the Germany-based airline that is the largest in Europe.
Other air disasters
In July 2000, an Air France Concorde crashed shortly after take-off from Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport en route for New York, leaving 113 people, mainly Germans dead and eventually leading to the supersonic airliner being taken out of service.
The world’s worst air disasters remain the March 27, 1977, collision of two Boeing 747s on the runway at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, killing 583 people, and the August 12, 1985 crash into a mountainside of a Boeing 747 belonging to Japan Airlines, killing 520 people.
France’s leading air traffic controller union SNCTA called off a strike planned from Wednesday to Friday after news of the crash.
“We are suspending our planned strike as a result of the emotions created in the control rooms by the crash, particularly in Aix-en-Provence,” the union’s spokesman Roger Rousseau said.
Lufthansa itself was hit by a four-day pilots’ strike last week, although this did not affect Germanwings.
Shares in Airbus slumped on news of the accident, down 1.77 per cent to 58.94 euros after briefly sliding two per cent.
– with agencies