A Germanwings Airbus A320 airliner carrying 144 passengers, including two babies and six crew members, to Düsseldorf from Barcelona has crashed in southern France in what aviation experts are calling a "dark day" for the German airline.
On Tuesday, the French civil aviation authority confirmed that the wreckage of the jet, which belongs to the Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, was located by a French military helicopter near the town of Prads-Haute-Bléone.
According to the BBC, radio contact with the aircraft was lost about 40 minutes after takeoff. A short time later, air traffic controllers sent out an alert, as the plane descended rapidly from a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet. While the reason for the crash is currently unknown, French President Francois Hollande said the "conditions of the accident" lead experts to believe there are no survivors.
King Felipe VI of Spain said that there were many Spanish and Turkish citizens on the flight, and President Hollande stated that many victims were German citizens, including sixteen teenagers and two teachers from Haltern, a city in North Rhine Westphalia in western Germany. However, there were no French passengers on the plane.
"We must feel grief, because this is a tragedy that happened on our soil," said President Hollande, according to the AFP.
The President added that emergency teams were heading to the site, but that access was very difficult due to the rocky mountain terrain. He emphasized that all information would be shared with the German and Spanish authorities.
"I want to make sure that there have been no other consequences as the accident happened in a very difficult area to access, and I do not know yet if there were houses nearby. We will know in the next few hours. In the meantime, we must show support," he said.
Spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet also told BFM TV that it would be "an extremely long and extremely difficult'' search-and-rescue operation because of the remoteness.
Family members arriving at Duesseldorf airport were taken from the main terminal to a nearby building, which airport employees partially covered with sheets for privacy, according to CTV News. Meanwhile, at the Barcelona airport, police escorted several crying women to a part of the airport away from the media.
The Guardian reports that Germanwings is a lower-cost unit of Lufthansa, Germany's biggest airline. The downed aircraft was 24 years old, and underwent a routine technical check by Lufthansa technicians in Dusseldorf yesterday. It had received a major inspection in the summer of 2013, and has an excellent safety record with no previously recorded accidents. Additionally, the captain had more than 10 years flying experience with Lufthansa and Germanwings, and had recorded more than 6,000 hours flying time.
However, if the deaths are confirmed, the crash would be the most deadly crash in France in 30 years, and the third most deadly crash on French soil, according to the New York Times.
On Tuesday morning, Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr tweeted: "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.
"If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa. We hope to find survivors."