French Alps Airbus crash: LIVE REPORT

Andrew Newby, AFP reporters in France
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Helicopters of the French Air Force and civil security services are pictured in Seyne

Helicopters of the French Air Force and civil security services are pictured in Seyne (AFP Photo/Anne-Christine Poujoulat)

Paris (AFP) - 17:04 GMT - AFP IS NOW CLOSING THIS LIVE REPORT on the worst plane disaster in mainland France in four decades.

All 150 people on board a Germanwings Airbus 320 travelling from Barcelona to Duesseldorf were killed when it went down on a remote mountainside in the French Alps.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says a black box has been found and will be delivered to investigators.

17:04 GMT - Rajoy visit - "Tomorrow I will visit the area of the air accident in France," Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says in a message on Twitter. French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are also scheduled to travel to the area tomorrow.

16:52 GMT - Experts - Representatives of Airbus and engine maker CFM will join seven experts from France's BEA bureau of aviation investigations on a visit to the crash scene, the BEA says.

16:52 GMT - Inquiry - French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announces that one of the black boxes from the Airbus A320 has been found "and will enable the inquiry already under way to make progress".

16:51 GMT - BLACK BOX FOUND AT PLANE CRASH SITE: INTERIOR MINISTER

- Black box -

16:37 GMT - SPAIN PM RAJOY TO VISIT FRANCE CRASH SITE WEDNESDAY: SPOKESMAN

16:19 GMT - Winching - A unit of gendarmes specialising in air accidents has been called in.

"Helicopters cannot land and we will use a winching technique," Jean-Paul Bloin, a gendarmes Lieutenant Colonel, says at Seyne.

"The crash happened across an area of about a hectare, rising steeply, on the side of a slope," Bloin said.

"A lot of debris is strewn around. It will be extremely complicated to be able to work," he saYS, noting the presence of "a few big bits of debris, maybe half a dozen."

16:18 GMT - 'Debris and bodies' - "Nothing is left but debris and bodies," Alpes-de-Haute-Provence MP Christophe Castaner says after a helicopter flight over the crash site.

"Dreadful scenes in this mountain landscape," he says on Twitter.

15:42 GMT - 300 rescuers - Three hundred rescue workers and 300 police have been deployed to the crash scene, along with 10 helicopters and military planes, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says on his arrival at Seyne, base for the rescue operation.

- Huge operation -

15:42 GMT - Two babies - The 144 passengers on board flight 4U 9525 included two babies, Germanwings' Winkelmann says, adding that the six crew comprised two in the cockpit and four cabin staff.

15:42 GMT - Deadly plunge - More details from Germanwings of the deadly plunge by flight 4U 9525:

The plane reached its regular cruising altitude of 38,000 feet (11,500 metres) at 10:45 am. But after just one minute, it started plunging.

The descent lasted eight minutes and French air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane at 10:53 am (0953 GMT), when the aircraft had reached an altitude of around 6,000 feet, Germanwings executive Thomas Winkelmann said.

"The aircraft then crashed," he said.

15:42 GMT - Update - All 150 people on board are dead in the worst plane disaster in mainland France in four decades.

- The Germanwings Airbus 320 was travelling from the Spanish coastal city of Barcelona to the German city of Duesseldorf when it went down on a remote mountainside in the French Alps

- The crash happened in the Trois Eveches mountain range, rising to 1,400 metres and difficult to access

- A local aerodrome has been turned into a heliport as rescue helicopters shuttle to and from the crash scene

- 67 Germans are believed to have been on the flight

- 16 German teenagers on a school exchange trip are feared to be among the dead

15:24 GMT - School party - Marti Pujol says the German pupils and teachers left for Barcelona airport this morning, though he could not confirm they boarded the Germanwings flight as planned.

Some of the staff at the high school where they had been on an exchange programme knew their flight number and the time of their flight, he said. The school party was from the town of Haltern am See in northern Germany.

"All the signs point to them being on board the plane" when it crashed, says Georg Bockey, said a spokesman for the local authorities in Haltern.

15:24 GMT - Exchange trip - Sixteen German teenagers on a school exchange trip are feared to be among the 150 dead, an official says.

"There were 16 children and two teachers who had spent a week here, poor things. The children were aged about 15,", Marti Pujol, mayor of the village of Llinars del Valles, near Barcelona, tells AFP.

- Teenage victims -

15:23 GMT - Belgian victim - There is at least one Belgian victim of the Germanwings crash, according to Foreign Minister Didier Reynders. "My condolences to the victim's family and friends," he tweets.

15:20 GMT - Losses narrowed - Germanwings carrier has about 2,000 employees and it carried around 16 million passengers in the year to July 2014.

The low-cost carrier 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

15:18 GMT - 2010 incident - 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. http://u.afp.com/9cz

14:54 GMT - Nosedive - The Airbus A320 jet that crashed in the French Alps had only just reached a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet before it descended rapidly for eight minutes, Germanwings says.

The pilot of flight 4U 9525 had more than 10 years' experience and 6,000 flying hours under his belt, Germanwings executive Thomas Winkelmann tells a news conference. The jet had undergone a thorough check in the summer of 2013,

14:54 GMT - OBAMA BRIEFED ON CRASH, US OFFERS HELP: WHITE HOUSE

14:54 GMT - 'No hope' - There is no hope of finding any survivors from flight 4U 9525, say police.

"There is no need for any rescue operations, everyone is dead," says a police officer in the town of Le Vernet, not far from the inaccessible mountainside where the airliner crashed.

14:53 GMT - GERMANWINGS SAYS JET UNDERWENT THOROUGH CHECK IN SUMMER 2013

14:46 GMT - More flights scheduled - "I am very afraid. I don't want to fly today. I'm booked on a Germanwings flight," Ann Kristin, a 21 year-old German tourist tells AFP's Michaela Cancela-Kiefer at Barcelona Airport.

Ann Kristin's flight to Duesseldorf is due to take off in early evening. She has had a four-day break in Barcelona with a friend and heard about the accident as she was packing her suitcase.

Flights for Duesseldorf and Stuttgart are scheduled from Barcelona this evening with two arrivals expected from those cities, according to the arrivals board.

Germanwings has regular flights from Barcelona to Germany, also serving Hamburg, Hannover, Berlin and Cologne.

14:33 GMT - Airport sadness - At Barcelona airport, a man of about 60, elegantly dressed, tries to hide his tears behind round glasses.

Another, aged about 30, looks at the ground, shaking his head as if he can't believe the crash had happened.

A third, with greying hair, arrives with two children, keeping a protective arms around one of them, a teenager with a bag on his shoulder.

An elderly woman arrives with a man and a woman appearing to be her daughter, who fails to suppress a long cry of pain.

All are ushered to the room set aside for relatives and kept away from the many journalists in the airport concourse.

14:32 GMT - GERMANWINGS SAYS PILOT HAD MORE THAN 10 YEARS' EXPERIENCE, 6,000 FLIGHT HOURS

- Pilot -

14:25 GMT - 16 GERMAN SCHOOL CHILDREN FEARED DEAD IN FRENCH ALPS CRASH: SPANISH MAYOR

14:18 GMT - GERMANWINGS SAYS JET NOSEDIVED FOR EIGHT MINUTES

14:16 GMT - Plane 24 years old - Airbus says the aircraft used on flight 4U 9525 was delivered to Lufthansa from the production line in 1991. It had accumulated approximately 58,300 flight hours in some 46,700 flights. It was powered by CFM 56-5A1 engines.

At the end of February 2015 nearly 6,200 A320 Family aircraft were in operation worldwide, Airbus says. The fleet has accumulated more than 150 million flight hours in over 85 million flights.

14:16 GMT - 67 GERMANS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEEN ON CRASH JET: GERMANWINGS

14:10 GMT - Families in tears - Friends and relatives of victims of the Germanwings air crash are arriving at Barcelona airport.

Several dozen people arrive around midday, some in tears, AFP's Michaela Cancela-Kieffer reports.

Various couples and individuals approach the Swissport counter, Germanwings' agent at the airport, to seek information.

- Relatives -

14:04 GMT - Worst crashes - Records show the crash of a German budget airliner in the French Alps is the worst air disaster in mainland France in 40 years and one of Europe's worst in the past 10 years. http://u.afp.com/9cp

13:42 GMT - 1st Germanwings loss - Germanwings says none of its aircraft has ever been involved in a crash prior to the loss of an Airbus A320 in the French Alps.

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

13:42 GMT - Helicopters shuttling - A little aerodrome in Seyne-les-Alpes, usually used as a departure point for gliders, has been transformed into a heliport from where helicopters are shuttling to and from the crash scene, local chemist Francoise Barande tells AFP by telephone.

13:42 GMT - GERMANWINGS CREW DID NOT SEND DISTRESS SIGNAL: AVIATION OFFICIAL

13:41 GMT - MERKEL SAYS WILL TRAVEL TO FRENCH CRASH REGION ON WEDNESDAY

13:14 GMT - Summary - - All 150 people on board are dead in the worst plane disaster in mainland France in four decades

- 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

- 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 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.

13:13 GMT - Victims - French President Francois Hollande says the 150 people killed included Germans, Spaniards and "probably" Turks.

He says he cannot say with "total certainty" that no French nationals were aboard the Germanwings flight.

13:13 GMT - Radio links - Colonel Jean-Pascal Breton, head of French air force information service SIRPA Air, explains the overflights by Mirage military planes, saying they went to the area of the crash to provide radio links between the various rescue services.

"At 1,700 metres, the radio doesn't work as the mountains block signals. To coordinate the operation you need radio links. That is what the fighter aircraft are doing. So the helicopters talk via the airborne plane," Breton says.

Other resources will be brought in this afternoon, possibly including an AWACS (surveillance) plane, he adds.

13:11 GMT - Spanish king - Spanish King Felipe VI cuts short his first state visit to France.

"We decided to cancel this trip" after discussions between French President Francois Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the king says on the steps of the French presidential palace just moments after the visit had officially begun.

- Royal visit -

13:10 GMT - Hotline - Lufthansa and Germanwings have established a telephone hotline. The toll-free number is 0800 11 33 55 77

13:10 GMT - Major rescue efforts - The French government says "major rescue efforts" have been mobilised, but accessing the remote region presents severe challenges.

"The zone is snow-bound and inaccessible to vehicles, but could be overflown by helicopters," said. Alain Vidalies, minister of state for transport

12:58 GMT - Black logos - Luftansa and Germanwings have turned their Facebook and Twitter logos black as a sign of mourning

- Mourning -

12:57 GMT - Sky was clear - Brown adds: "Estrop Head has very steep escarpment. No access is possible except on summer hiking routes. I imagine the rescue will be done completely by helicopter. I can hear helicopters overhead at the moment."

The sky was clear this morning, with no rain, Brown tells AFP.

12:51 GMT - Mirages flew by - Meolans Revel local councillor Thierry Brown tells AFP's Isabelle Malsang: "The only thing we noticed was three Mirage fighter planes flying over, at least three times, around the supposed time of the crash.

"We are used to seeing one a day on average but never so many at the same time."

12:45 GMT - No winter access - "In summer you can reach it on foot but in the winter you generally stop before getting there," said a resident of Meolans Revel, the other side of the mountain from the crash site.

12:41 GMT - Tough terrain - "Land access is horrible," Francoise Pie, a resident of nearby Seyne-les-Alpes, tells AFP's Isabel Malsang.

"I know the Estrop mountain.... It is very high. It is very steep and it is terrible to access during the winter other than by air.

"I wonder if he diverted the plane so as not to crash in the valley, where people live," Pie said.

- Inaccessible -

12:32 GMT - GERMANWINGS SAYS 144 PASSENGERS AND 6 CREW ON CRASHED PLANE

12:25 GMT - Rajoy 'shocked' - Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy says he is "shocked" by the Airbus crash. Spain is working with the French and German authorities on the investigation, he adds.

12:24 GMT - MERKEL 'SHOCKED' BY GERMAN PLANE CRASH, CLEARS SCHEDULE: SPOKESMAN

11:56 GMT - Enormous noise - A police helicopter said the crash happened in a mountainous area called Les Trois Eveches, rising to 1,400 metres and very difficult to access.

A witness who was skiing in the area described having "heard an enormous noise", a French television channel reported.

The French civil aviation authority said the plane disappeared from radar screens after issuing the distress call over Barcelonette, about 100 km north of the resoirt of Cannes.

11:56 GMT - Airbus - More from the Airbus Twitter account:

"We have been informed of an accident involving an A320 Family aircraft and all efforts are now going towards assessing the situation.

"We will provide further information as soon as available. Our thoughts are with those affected by this tragic event."

11:56 GMT - Lufthansa shares down - In late morning deals, Lufthansa's share price dived 4.61 percent to 13.15 euros in Frankfurt, topping the fallers board on the German stock market.

"Tragically, market movement cannot always been driven by pure stats, and the news that a Germanwings plane has crashed in the south of France caused a fall in Lufthansa -- the owner of Germanwings -- alongside Airbus, the plane’s manufacturer, as the cause of the disaster remains unclear," Spreadex analyst Connor Campbell told AFP.

- Stocks slump -

11:54 GMT - GERMANWINGS TO HOLD NEWS CONFERENCE AT 1400 GMT NEAR COLOGNE-BONN AIRPORT

11:53 GMT - 5,000 feet - Alain Vidalies, minister of state for transport, said: "A distress call was registered at 10:47. The distress signal showed the plane was at 5,000 feet in an abnormal situation."

The crash happened shortly after the distress signal, he said.

11:53 GMT - HOLLANDE EXPRESSES SYMPATHY TO MERKEL OVER AIRBUS CRASH: FRENCH PRESIDENCY

11:46 GMT - Strike scrapped - France's leading air traffic controller union SNCTA has called off a strike planned from Wednesday to Friday.

"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 told AFP.

11:46 GMT - Barcelona airport - At Barcelona airport, a room has been set aside for families of passengers, AFP's Michaela Cancela-Kieffer reports.

Journalists are surrounding the Swissport counter, which represents Germanwings there, she says.

"We cannot say anything," one of the three staff tells Cancela-Kieffer.

Members of the Catalan regional authority are holding a crisis meeting with the interior ministry and the airport's management.

11:46 GMT - 'NO SURVIVORS' IN FRENCH ALPS PLANE CRASH: TRANSPORT MINISTER

11:44 GMT - Eurocontrol - "Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those aboard the Germanwings flight 9525," tweets Eurocontrol, the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation.

11:40 GMT - Lufthansa CEO - Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr tweets from the Lufthansa official account:

"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."

- 'Dark day' -

11:25 GMT - Valls tweets - French Prime Minister Manuel Valls tweets: "This morning's air drama has plunged France into deep sorrow. Compassion and solidarity with the families of all the victims."

11:24 GMT - 'No details': EU - EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc tells reporters in Brussels: "We have no details about this accident, all we know is from media reports.

"We are working with French, German and Spanish authorities including the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) to get more details."

"All I can say is that our thoughts are with those people on board and those relatives and we hope we will be able to provide information in a timely manner," Bulc says.

11:23 GMT - Airbus shares fall - Shares in Airbus, the European aerospace giant are down 1.77 percent to 58.94 euros in Paris at 1100 GMT after briefly sliding two percent

11:22 GMT - Low-cost - The plane belonged to Germanwings, a low-cost affiliate of German airline Lufthansa. The single-aisle A320 typically seats 150 to 180 people.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who says debris from the plane has already been found, is heading to the scene.

- Germanwings -

11:18 GMT - Barcelona origin - The plane was travelling from the Spanish coastal city of Barcelona to the German city of Duesseldorf when it went down in the Barcelonnette area, in southeastern France.

The plane issued a distress call at 10:47 am (0947 GMT), sources said.

11:17 GMT - Airbus - "We are aware of the media reports. All efforts are now going towards assessing the situation," Airbus tweets.

The company says it will provide further information as soon as it is available.

11:13 GMT - Germanwings tweets - Tweet from Germanwings: "INFO: We have recently become aware of media reports speculating on an incident though we still do not have any own confirmed information...

"... As soon as definite information is available, we shall inform the media immediately ...

"... Please monitor our website for periodic updates."

11:13 GMT - 'No survivors' - All 148 people aboard the Airbus are likely dead, French President Francois Hollande says.

"There are not thought to be any survivors" from the Germanwings plane that crashed on its way from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, Hollande told reporters.

11:08 GMT - NO SURVIVORS EXPECTED IN FRENCH ALPS PLANE CRASH: HOLLANDE

11:03 GMT - WELCOME TO AFP'S LIVE REPORT on the crash of an Airbus A320 in the French Alps with 148 people on board.

A civil aviation official said there had been "a loss of radar of Germanwings flight GWI18G," which is thought to have been carrying 142 passengers, two pilots and four stewards.