All 150 Aboard Germanwings Flight 9525 Feared Dead

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Germany and Spain mourn; French authorities launch difficult search-and-recovery effort

By INTI LANDAURO, JASON CHOW and ROBERT WALL
Updated March 24, 2015 5:09 p.m. ET

SEYNE, France—The crash of an Airbus A320 carrying 150 people from Barcelona to Düsseldorf plunged Germany and Spain into mourning as France rushed to mount a complex search-and-recovery operation in this steep Alpine region.
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Officials who flew over the crash site on Tuesday described an awful scene of desolation: a mountain face blanketed by small debris and body parts, suggesting the plane operated by the low-cost arm of Deutsche Lufthansa AG disintegrated when it hit the ground.

“The violence of the crash leaves little hope for survivors,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said upon returning to Seyne—the village where emergency workers have established a base camp—after inspecting the site by helicopter.

The crash of Flight 9525 stunned Germany and Spain, whose nationals made up most of the flight manifest. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would join Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Seyne on Wednesday to pay respects to the victims alongside French President François Hollande.

The crash exacted a heavy toll on a small western German town, Haltern am See, which lost 16 teenagers and two teachers. The group was returning from a student exchange at a public high school near Barcelona.

“This is the darkest day in the history of our town,” said Bodo Klimpel, the town’s mayor.

Germanwings, a low-fare brand created by Lufthansa in 2002, had an unblemished safety record until Tuesday.

With no direct road access to the crash site, emergency workers faced a difficult option: hourslong treks at altitudes of 6,500 feet or rappelling from helicopters unable to land on treacherous mountainous terrain. Complicating matters, heavy wind, rain and possibly snow was forecast Tuesday night.

“It is really hard to get there,” said Damien Bon, a marshal with the local mountain police.

Still, with over 600 police and military mobilized, together with 10 helicopters and a military plane, French authorities said they had recovered one of the two black box recorders from the Germanwings aircraft. The BEA, France’s flight safety agency, will begin analyzing the contents of the black box later Tuesday, the French Interior Ministry said. The recording devices typically provide the best clue why a plane crashed.

Meantime, a dozen coroners were dispatched to Seyne to prepare for collecting body samples and helping to identify victims.

As darkness fell, several mountain rangers remained stationed in the area to secure the crash scene, as authorities suspended the search effort for the night.

French authorities said they weren’t ruling out any potential cause for the crash but didn’t appear to suspect foul play. The fact that prosecutors in Marseilles were assigned to investigate the crash—rather than the anti-terrorism unit based in Paris—indicated investigators were focused on other theories.

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