German flight crashes in Alps, killing all 150 aboard
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German flight crashes in Alps, killing all 150 aboard

Officials say no distress signal sent before Airbus nosedived into French Alps; Merkel to visit region where Airbus went down

Helicopters of the French Air Force (back) and civil security services are seen in Seyne, south-eastern France, on March 24, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps.  (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT
Helicopters of the French Air Force (back) and civil security services are seen in Seyne, south-eastern France, on March 24, 2015, near the site where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT

A German airliner crashed near a ski resort in the French Alps on Tuesday, killing all 150 people on board, in the worst plane disaster in mainland France in four decades.

France’s junior transport minister said there were “no survivors” from the crash of the Germanwings Airbus A320, a low-cost subsidiary of Lufthansa, in a remote part of the Alps that is extremely difficult to access.

The crew of the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps on Tuesday did not send a distress signal, civil aviation authorities told AFP.

“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.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would go on Wednesday to the region where the plane crashed.

She said her foreign and transport ministers, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Alexander Dobrindt, were heading to the area, in a mountain range known as “Les Trois Eveches,” later Tuesday.

“I myself will travel there tomorrow to get an impression and speak with the local authorities,” she told reporters in Berlin.

French President Francois Hollande said the plane crashed in an area very difficult to access and rescuers would not be able to reach the site for several hours.

“I want to express all our solidarity to the families affected by this tragedy,” Hollande told reporters.

The plane was travelling from the Spanish coastal city of Barcelona to the German city of Duesseldorf when it went down in the ski resort area of Barcelonnette.

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 1,400 metres in altitude.

The government said “major rescue efforts” had been mobilised, but accessing the remote region would present severe challenges.

“The zone is snow-bound and inaccessible to vehicles, but could be overflown by helicopters,” said Vidalies.

Germanwings, the low-cost airline owned by German flag carrier Lufthansa, said that none of its aircraft has ever been involved in a crash prior to Tuesday’s loss.

“We’ve never had a total loss of aircraft in the company’s history until now,” a company spokeswoman told AFP.

Germanwings said there were 144 passengers and six crew on the aircraft.

Germanwings is the low-cost subsidiary of Lufthansa and is currently being expanded by the parent company to handle most of its domestic and European flights, taking off and landing at airports other than Lufthansa’s two main hubs in Frankfurt and Munich.

With its trademark yellow and purple colors, it originally started life as part of Eurowings, but became a separate company in 2002.

Lufthansa fully acquired the Cologne-based subsidiary in 2009.

Its fleet comprises Airbus A320-200 and A319-100 jets, according to the Lufthansa website.

In 2012, it emerged that there had been a serious incident involving one of Germanwings’ aircraft at the end of 2010, when pilots were badly affected by fumes and complained of a burning smell in the cockpit as the plane approached Cologne airport.

Germanwings was accused of playing down the incident.

The low-cost carrier has around 2,000 employees and it carried around 16 million passengers in the year to July 2014.

Germanwings succeeded in narrowing its losses in 2014, despite financial fallout from a pilots strike, and hopes to break even for the first time in 2015.

Spain’s king cuts short visit

Spanish King Felipe VI cut short his first state visit to France on Tuesday after the crash.

“We decided to cancel this trip” after discussions between French President Francois Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the king said on the steps of the French presidential palace.

The cancellation came just moments after the visit had officially begun.

“We know the number of victims is extremely high — a large number of Spaniards, Germans, but also Turks,” the king said, confirming that no survivors had yet been found.

France had rolled out the red carpet for Felipe VI, who had just arrived in Paris for his first ever state visit since assuming the throne last year.

Accompanied by his wife Letizia, a 41-year-old former journalist, he was welcomed earlier in the day with a special ceremony at the Invalides military museum and was due to address the French parliament later in his visit.

Felipe, 46, took over the throne from his father, Juan Carlos, who abdicated in June.

He was also due to inaugurate a major exhibition of the work of Spanish artist Diego Velasquez at the Grand Palais on Tuesday before attending a state dinner at the Elysee Palace.

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