SEYNE-LES-ALPES, France — French investigators yesterday searched for the reason why a German Airbus ploughed into an Alpine mountainside, killing all 150 on board including 16 teenagers returning from a school trip to Spain.
Helicopters flew over the site where the A320 operated by Lufthansa's Germanwings budget airline disintegrated after it went down in a remote area of ravines en route toDuesseldorf from Barcelona. Police investigators made their way across the mountains on foot.
No distress call was received before the plane crashed on Tuesday, but French authorities said one of the two "black box" flight recorders, the cockpit voice recorder, has been recovered from the site 2,000m above sea level.
"The black box has been damaged. We will have to put it back together in the next few hours to be able to get to the bottom of this tragedy," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio, adding the box was still viable.
Terrorist attack unlikely cause
Cazeneuve said the fact debris was scattered over a small area of about one and a half ha showed the plane likely did not explode in the air, meaning a terrorist attack was not the most likely scenario.
In Washington, the White House also said the crash did not appear to have been caused by a terrorist attack. Lufthansa said it was working on the assumption that the tragedy had been an accident, and any other theory would be speculation.
"Seeing the site of the accident was harrowing," Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said on Twitter. "We will enable the relatives to grieve on site as soon as possible."
Germanwings believed 67 Germans were on the flight and Spain said 45 passengers had Spanish names. One Belgian was aboard, Australia said two of it nationals had died and Britain said it was likely some Britons were on the plane.
Also among the victims were 16 teenagers and two teachers from the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in the town of Haltern am See in northwest Germany. They were on their way home after a week-long Spanish exchange programme near Barcelona.
The school held a day of mourning yesterday.
Aerial photographs showed smouldering wreckage and a piece of the fuselage with six windows strewn across the mountainside.
"We saw an aircraft that had literally been ripped apart, the bodies are in a state of destruction, there is not one intact piece of wing or fuselage," Brice Robin, prosecutor forthe city of Marseille, said after flying over the site.
Germanwings said on Tuesday the plane started descending one minute after reaching cruising height and continued losing altitude for eight minutes.
Experts said that while the Airbus had descended rapidly, it did not seem to have simply fallen out of the sky. — REUTERS