A Germanwings flight 4U 9525 crashed in the Alps of Southern France Tuesday morning, almost certainly killing all 150 passengers and crew aboard. Little is yet known about the cause of the crash, but as investigators and rescue crew reached the debris of the crash site, initial bits of information are being discovered.
The Airbus A320 took off at about 11:00 a.m. — 25 minutes late — from Barcelona, and went down in the Alps en route to Dusseldorf Tuesday morning, after making an unexplained and steep descent for about eight minutes. It reached its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet at 10:45 a.m. for just one minute before beginning to drop; the plane lost contact after 10:53 a.m., at an altitude of about 6,000 feet, roughly the height of some of the surrounding mountains. Per the Telegraph, the plane remained intact for that period, automatically communicating its altitude with air-traffic controllers, who had issued a distress alert.
The plane crashed shortly before 11:00 a.m. Investigators are hoping to lean what went wrong in that crucial minute when it reached cruising altitude before descending.
Per the Guardian: “Investigators said they were puzzled as to why the crew did not send out a mayday or distress signal as flight 4U9525 rapidly lost altitude for eight minutes, or why the pilot did not change course to avoid crashing into a rocky ravine at around 430mph.”
“Many questions remained,” the New York Times reported, “including whether the pilots were in control of the aircraft during the descent and what would have caused a plane with an experienced pilot and solid safety record to crash in largely clear and cloudless weather.”
“Whatever happened, whether it was human, passenger or mechanical, happened very, very rapidly,” said Anthony Roman on MSNBC.
Germanwings said the last routine maintenance check had been performed on the aircraft Monday. The plane had flown for 24 years.
According to the French Interior Ministry, terrorism has been all-but ruled out.
The White House concurred. “There is no indication of a nexus to terrorism at this time,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan yesterday.
However, per the Times, “A senior French military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing, said that the lack of communication from the pilots during the plane’s descent was disturbing, and that the possibility that their silence was deliberate could not be ruled out.”
The Black Box
To that end, the airline said the black box has been recovered, damaged but intact. The recording of the cockpit’s final moments could give investigators their first clues as to what caused the crash.
Investigators are still hoping to recover a second black box.
The Crash Site
The crash site has been described as “pulverized.”
“The airplane had completely disintegrated,” said the head of local rescue operations. “There is nothing left; the area of the crash is huge.”
“Another official saying that he has never seen anything like it,” said NBC reporter Keir Simmons, “but in most cases of an air accident, you see the cockpit still pretty much in shape. In this case, he says there is just nothing, nothing that you can really recognize in any substantial sense. And so that is going to make the investigation difficult.”
Thanks to its mountainous terrain, the site is inaccessible by ground transport, forcing rescue crews to chopper in. Watch video below, via NBC News:
The victims’ nationalities included, according to both the airline and the countries of origin:
- 67 Germans
- 45 Spanish
- 3 Britons
- 3 Kazakhs
- 3 Mexicans
- 2 Japanese
- 2 Australians
- 2 Americans
- 1 Turkish national
- 1 Belgian
- 1 Dutch
Of the Germans, 16 were high schoolers on a field trip, along with two teachers. The identities of some of the Spanish victims were revealed by Spanish press Wednesday morning.
A local gymnasium has been converted into a makeshift morgue for recovered bodies.
[Image via screengrab]
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