A group of schoolchildren were likely aboard the Germanwings airplane that crashed in the French Alps Tuesday — leaving no survivors.
Sixteen teenagers and two teachers from Joseph-König-Gymnasium high school were returning from an exchange program in Spain, according to local media.
“There is a strong suspicion” that the students and teachers were on the budget airplane, said a spokeswoman for the town of Haltern am See in northwestern Germany. “We don’t have any official confirmation yet.”
Lufthansa’s Germanwings airline, which was operating the A320 Airbus, confirmed that 144 passengers and six crew members were on Flight 4U9525 from Barcelona to Düsseldorf when it crashed in an isolated alpine area.
“This is the darkest day in the history of our city,” said Haltern Mayor Bodo Klimpel, reported i24 News. “The city is deeply worried, and the shock is felt everywhere. This is pretty much the worst we could imagine.”
The Local says the teens had spent nine days at the Giola Institute in the northeastern Spanish village of Llinars del Vallès.
Joseph-König-Gymnasium reportedly sent its students home and closed for the remainder of the day.
People from across the globe took to Twitter after the tragic crash. One person from Haltern am See said she was devastated that 18 people from her hometown died at once.
Plane crashes are always scary, but it's a different kind of scary when it happens so close to home. 😧— M.H. (@Maike1304) March 24, 2015
Members of the community gathered at the school in Haltern am See to light candles and lay flowers to honor the victims. A journalist on location said many reporters showed up as well but were keeping an appropriate distance.
Professional soccer player Benedikt Höwedes, captain of FC Schalke 04, said everyone knows he is from Haltern am See and that many of his friends and family were there when the news broke.
He offered his best wishes for the victims of the families during this trying time.
1/2 Jeder weiß, dass ich aus Haltern am See komme und dort bis heute viele Freunde und Verwandte habe. pic.twitter.com/a5zSJO1AEB— Benedikt Höwedes (@BeneHoewedes) March 24, 2015
2/2 Ich bin unfassbar traurig über das schreckliche Unglück und wünschen allen Familien und Angehörigen die Kraft dieses zu überstehen.— Benedikt Höwedes (@BeneHoewedes) March 24, 2015
From Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she is in deep mourning and her thoughts are with the victims’ families and friends.
“I myself will travel there tomorrow to get an impression and speak with the local authorities,” she told reporters.
Merkel said she spoke with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and French President François Hollande over the phone. The world leaders agreed to work together to find the cause of this catastrophe, she said.
Hollande said, “The conditions of the accident, which have not yet been clarified, lead us to think there are no survivors.”
This is the first large passenger jet to crash in France since the Concorde tragedy outside Paris in 2000.
French police say it could take several days to recover the victims’ bodies because of the rugged terrain.