A German airliner crashed near a ski resort in the French Alps yesterday, killing all 150 people on board, in the worst plane disaster in mainland France in four decades.
French Junior Minister of Transport, Maritime Economy and Fishery Frederic Cuvillier 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.
Civil aviation authorities said they lost contact with the plane, which was carrying 144 passengers and six crew, and declared it was in distress at 10:30am.
“The distress signal showed the plane was at 5,000 feet [1,524m] in an abnormal situation,” French Minister of State for Transport Alain Vidalies said.
Spanish King Felipe VI cut short his state visit to France on news of the tragedy, with a number of Spanish nationals believed to be among the dead, along with Germans and possibly Turks.
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 traveling 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” at 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 1,400m in altitude.
The government said that “major rescue efforts” had been mobilized, but that accessing the remote region would present severe challenges.
“The zone is snow-bound and inaccessible to vehicles, but could be overflown by helicopters,” Vidalies said.
The plane belonged to Germanwings, a low-cost affiliate of German airline Lufthansa based in Cologne that until now had no record of fatal accidents.
France’s leading air traffic controller union SNCTA has called off a strike planned from today until 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,” union spokesman Roger Rousseau said.
Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said on Twitter that the airline had no immediate details on the crash, describing it as a “dark day.”
“My deepest sympathy goes to the families and friends of our passengers and crew on 4U 9525,” Spohr said. “If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa. We hope to find survivors.”
Hollande spoke briefly by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and expressed solidarity with Germany.
French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve immediately headed to the scene, while French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he had called an inter-ministerial crisis cell.
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