Video: Final seconds inside cabin of Germanwings jet before crash - Emirates24|7

Video: Final seconds inside cabin of Germanwings jet before crash

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Latest: A video purportedly showing the final seconds inside the cabin of the ill-fated Germanwings airliner minutes before it crashed emerged Tuesday, with two European media claiming to have seen the footage.

One sequence reportedly shows a chaotic scene with passengers screaming "My God".

French magazine Paris Match and German daily Bild said the authenticity of the video filmed on a mobile phone is "unquestionable" and that it had been retrieved from the wreckage of last Tuesday's crash.

The recording lasting just a few seconds showed that passengers knew what was happening to them before the plane crashed into the French Alps, instantly killing all 150 people on board, according to the reports.

"The scene was so chaotic that it was hard to identify people, but the sounds of the screaming passengers made it perfectly clear that they were aware of what was about to happen to them," said Paris Match, adding that people were heard crying "My God" in several languages.

It added that "metallic banging" could be heard more than three times -- possibly the attempts of the pilot to open the cockpit door with a heavy object.

Investigators evaluating voice recorder data say co-pilot Andreas Lubitz allegedly locked his captain out of the cockpit and crashed the plane.

Final moments before the Germanwings crash on YouTube (video unverified)

Crash pilot was treated for suicidal tendency

The German pilot suspected of deliberately crashing a plane in the French Alps last week was treated for suicidal tendencies years ago before he received his pilot's licence, German prosecutors said on Monday.

This was the first acknowledgement from German officials that the pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had suffered bouts of depression and it is likely to intensify a debate about how airlines screen and monitor their pilots.

Investigators believe Lubitz, serving as co-pilot on a Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf on March 24,locked the captain out of the cockpit and steered the Airbus A320 plane into the side of a mountain while passengers screamed in horror. A total of 150 people died in the crash.

Police officers and officials prepare to open a house believed to belong to crashed Germanwings flight 4U 9524 co-pilot Andreas Lubitz in Montabaur, Germany on Thursday March 26, 2015. (Reuters)

 

Lufthansa, the parent of the budget airline, has said it was not aware of anything in the 27-year-old's past which suggested he might have posed a risk.
It has confirmed that Lubitz broke off his pilot training in2009 for nearly a year, around the time he was reportedly suffering from depression and anxiety.

"Several years ago before obtaining his pilot's licence the co-pilot was in a long period of psychotherapeutic treatment with noticeable suicidal tendencies," Duesseldorf prosecutors said in a statement on Monday.

They said that in recent years he had not shown signs of suicidal behaviour or aggressive tendencies in visits to doctors.

After searching his family home in Montabaur and apartment in Duesseldorf, and following interviews with friends and relatives, the prosecutors said they had not found any evidence Lubitz was planning such an attack, nor the reasons behind it.

"No special circumstances have come to light, whether in his personal life or his work life, that shed any plausible light on a possible motive," they said.
 

EARLIER STORIES: Body of crash pilot recovered in the Alps

Forensic teams working on the site of the Germanwings crash may already have recovered the body of suspected killer co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, as it emerged that a road is being built to the remote location in the French Alps.

Investigators say tests on Lubitz’s body could provide crucial clues to explain why he might have locked himself in the cockpit of Flight 9525 and set the plane’s autopilot to crash into the side of a mountain.

The captain of a passenger jet that investigators believe was deliberately crashed into the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard, shouted at the co-pilot to "open the d*** door" as he desperately tried to get back into the locked cockpit, a German newspaper reported Sunday.

Forensic teams meanwhile announced that they had isolated 78 distinct DNA strands from body parts at the mountain crash site with investigators describing the difficulty of the search as "unprecedented" due to the arduous terrain.

[Screen grab taken from an AFP TV video on March 29, 2015 shows a bulldozer clearing a route to allow vehicular access to the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus A320  in Seyne-les-Alpes. AFP]

French officials say the plane's black box voice recorder indicates that Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked the captain out of the cockpit of the Germanwings jet and steered Flight 4U 9525 into a mountainside.
 

Open d*** door', captain shouted to co-pilot

The captain of a passenger jet that investigators believe was deliberately crashed into the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard, shouted at the co-pilot to "open the d*** door" as he made desperate attempts to return to the locked cockpit, according to a German newspaper Sunday.

French officials say the plane's black box voice recorder indicates that Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked the captain out of the cockpit of the Germanwings jet and deliberately flew Flight 4U 9525 into a mountainside.

They believe that the more senior pilot tried desperately to reopen the door during the flight's eight-minute descent after he left to use the bathroom.
Germany's mass-circulation Bild on Sunday reported that data from the cockpit recorder showed that the captain shouted: "For God's sake, open the door", as passengers' screams could be heard in the background, moments before the fatal crash.

The pilot could then be heard trying to smash the door down with an axe, and then screaming to a silent Lubitz to "open the d*** door".

Bild said that before leaving the cockpit the captain could be heard explaining to his colleague that he had not had time to go to the toilet before they left Barcelona.

German prosecutors believe Lubitz hid an illness from his airline but have not specified the ailment, and said he had apparently been written off sick on the day the Airbus crashed on its route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.

Germanwings pilot Frank Woiton was quoted in Saturday's edition of Bild as saying he had flown with Lubitz, who had spoken about his ambitions to become a captain and fly long-distance routes.

He told the newspaper Lubitz handled the plane well and "therefore I also left him alone in the cockpit to go to the toilet".
 

Co-pilot told ex 'everyone will know my name'

The Germanwings co-pilot who crashed his Airbus in the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard, told his ex-girlfriend that "one day everyone will know my name", according to German newspaper ‘Bild’.

In an interview, the 26-year-old flight attendant known as Maria W told ‘Bild’ that when she heard about the crash she recalled Andreas Lubitz telling her last year: "One day I'm going to do something that will change the whole system, and everyone will know my name and remember."

The black box voice recorder indicates that Lubitz, 27, locked his captain out of the cockpit on Tuesday and deliberately flew Flight 4U 9525 into a mountainside, French officials say, in what appears to have been a case of suicide and mass killing.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that all the signs were "pointing towards an act that we can't describe: criminal, crazy, suicidal".

According to ‘Bild’, the young woman, who was "very shocked", flew with Lubitz on European flights for five months last year, during which time they are believed to have been romantically involved.

Journalists film as people pay tribute to the victims of a Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard, on March 28, 2015 at a memorial in le Vernet, south-eastern France, near the site of the crash (AFP)

 

If Lubitz did deliberately crash the plane, "it is because he understood that because of his health problems, his big dream of a job at Lufthansa, as captain and as a long-haul pilot was practically impossible", she told ‘Bild’.

The pair separated "because it became increasingly clear that he had a problem", she told the daily, adding that at night he would wake up and scream "we're going down" and was plagued by nightmares.

‘Bild’ earlier reported that Lubitz sought psychiatric help for "a bout of serious depression" in 2009 and was still getting assistance from doctors, quoting documents from Germany's air transport regulator.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said that Lubitz had suspended his pilot training, which began in 2008, "for a certain period", before restarting and qualifying for the Airbus A320 in 2013. (AFP)

Co-pilot hid illness from airline

The Germanwings co-pilot who crashed his Airbus into the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard, hid a serious illness from the airline, prosecutors said Friday amid reports he was severely depressed, reported AFP.

The black box voice recorder indicates that Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked his captain out of the cockpit on Tuesday and deliberately flew Flight 4U 9525 into a mountainside, French officials say, in what appears to have been a case of suicide and mass killing.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that all the signs were "pointing towards an act that we can't describe: criminal, crazy, suicidal".

German prosecutors revealed that searches of Lubitz's homes netted "medical documents that suggest an existing illness and appropriate medical treatment", including "torn-up and current sick leave notes, among them one covering the day of the crash".

They did not specify the illness.
 

Co-pilot maintained 'total silence' as plane nosedived

The pilot who appears to have deliberately crashed a plane carrying 149 others into the French Alps received psychiatric treatment for a 'serious depressive episode' six years ago, German tabloid Bild reported on Friday.

Prosecutors in France, after listening to the cockpit voice recorders, offered no motive for why Andreas Lubitz, 27, would take the controls of the Airbus A320, lock the captain out of the cockpit and deliberately set it veering down from cruising altitude at 3,000 feet per minute.

Citing internal documents and Lufthansa sources, Bild said Lubitz spent a total of one and a half years in psychiatric treatment and that the relevant documents would be passed to French investigators once they had been examined by German authorities.

Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr told a news conference on Thursday that Lubitz had taken a break during his training six years ago, but did not explain why and said he had passed all tests to be fit to fly.

"Six years ago there was a lengthy interruption in his training. After he was cleared again, he resumed training. He passed all the subsequent tests and checks with flying colors. His flying abilities were flawless," Spohr said.

A Lufthansa spokeswoman said on Friday the airline would not comment on the state of health of the pilot. (Reuters)

 

Shocked families ask why co-pilot slammed plane in Alps

The co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings flight appears to have deliberately crashed the plane after locking his captain out of the cockpit, French officials said, with the "unimaginable" development sparking global shock and anger among victims' loved ones.

In a chilling account of the final minutes of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525, lead prosecutor Brice Robin said Thursday that 28-year-old German Andreas Lubitz initiated the plane's descent into the French Alps while alone at the controls.

Lubitz appeared to "show a desire to want to destroy" the plane, Robin told reporters after his team analysed the Airbus A320's cockpit voice recorder.

The first officer, who was described by neighbours and fellow flying club members as a "friendly" guy-next-door type who enjoyed jogging with his girlfriend, was not however believed to be part of a terrorist plot, officials said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the revelation added an "absolutely unimaginable dimension" to Tuesday's tragedy, in which 150 people were killed, mostly German and Spanish nationals.

It prompted airlines to review their cockpit policies, many announcing they will now require two crew members in the cockpit at all times.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he was "deeply shaken" by the news and sent his "heartfelt affection" to the victims' families, dozens of whom had arrived near the crash site.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, centre, with Gen. David Galtier, right,holds a press conference in Marseille, southern France, on Thursday March 26, 2015. Robin said the co-pilot was alone at the controls of the Germanwings flight that slammed into an Alpine mountainside and 'intentionally' sent the plane into the doomed descent, killing 150 people. (AP)

 

They were briefed by the prosecutor, who said they reacted with "shock" to the findings.

Robin said the passengers were killed "instantly" by the crash and were probably unaware of the impending disaster until the "very last moment."

"The screams are heard only in the last instants before the impact," he said.

"The co-pilot was alone at the controls," he said. "(He) deliberately refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot."

The pilot, believed to have gone to the toilet, made increasingly furious attempts to re-enter the cockpit, banging on the door, the recordings appear to show.

'Worst nightmares'

In the northwestern German town of Haltern, which lost 16 students and two teachers killed while returning from a school exchange, the revelations caused shock and anger.

"Personally, I'm stunned, angry, speechless and deeply shocked," Haltern's mayor Bodo Klimpel told a news conference.

"I'm asking myself when this nightmare will end. It's bad enough for the families to learn of the death of loved ones in an accident.
But when it's clear that an individual may possibly have deliberately caused the accident, it takes on an even worse dimension," Klimpel said.

The shaken principal of the stricken school, Ulrich Wessel, said "what makes all of us so angry (is) that a suicide can lead to the deaths of 149 other people ... It leaves us angry, perplexed, stunned."

The head of Germanwings' parent company Lufthansa, Carsten Spohr, said that "in our worst nightmares we could not have imagined that this kind of tragedy could happen to us".

A man in this 50s who gave his name only as Hans-Dieter travelled to the western German town of Montabaur to see Lubitz's home where he lived with his parents.

"I wanted to know where the murderer lived," he said.

Controls set to 'accelerate' descent

The French prosecutor downplayed the likelihood of Lubitz accidentally taking the plane down with an involuntary turn of the descent button.

"If you passed out and leaned over on it, it would only go a quarter-way and do nothing," Robin said, adding Lubitz, who had worked for Lufthansa since 2013, had set the controls to "accelerate the plane's descent."

For the eight minutes after he began the descent, Lubitz was apparently calm and silent, breathing normally and showing no sign of panic.

"He does not say a single word. Total silence," Robin said.

The co-pilot's motive remains a mystery.

"At this moment, there is no indication that this is an act of terrorism," Robin said, an assessment echoed by Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere.

Lufthansa's Spohr said there wasn't "the slightest indication what might have led" to the Lubitz's actions.

The second-in-command had passed all psychological tests required for training, Spohr told a press conference, insisting: "He was 100-percent airworthy".

The search for clues saw investigators Thursday search Lubitz's home as well as the flat he kept for work in the Germanwings hub of Duesseldorf.

Changes to cockpit policy

In the first industry responses to the disaster, Canada ordered its airlines to have two people in cockpits at all times, effective immediately.

Germany's aviation association BDL announced plans Thursday to introduce a two-person cockpit rule, while British low-cost carrier easyJet, Scandinavia's Norwegian Air Shuttle and Icelandair all made similar announcements.

Many US airlines already have such a policy in place.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations world aviation body, called for regular mental and physical check-ups for pilots.

Meanwhile, families and friends of victims gathered near the remote mountainous crash site area in the French Alps.

Tents were set up for families to give DNA samples to start the process of identifying the remains of the victims, at least 50 of whom were Spaniards and at least 75 Germans.

Remains found scattered across the scree-covered slopes were being taken by helicopter to nearby Seyne-les-Alpes.

One investigator said the operation would take at least a fortnight.

The crash site, which is situated at about 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) altitude, is accessible only by helicopter or an arduous hike.

Lufthansa said the aircraft was carrying citizens of 18 countries. The dead also included two babies.

A second black box, which records flight data, has not yet been recovered.

Co-pilot 'deliberately' crashed plane

The young co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings flight appears to have ‘deliberately’ crashed the plane into the French Alps after locking his captain out of the cockpit, but is not believed to be part of a terrorist plot, French officials said on Thursday.

In a chilling account of the last minutes of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525, lead prosecutor Brice Robin said 28-year-old German Andreas Lubitz ‘deliberately’ initiated the plane's descent while alone at the controls.

Picture released on March 27, 2015 shows co-pilot of Germanwings flight 4U9525 Andreas Lubitz taking part in the Airport Hamburg 10-mile run on September 13, 2009 in Hamburg, northern Germany (AFP PHOTO / FOTO TEAM MUELLER )


Lubitz appeared to ‘show a desire to want to destroy’ the plane, Robin told reporters, basing his initial findings on recordings made by the Airbus' cockpit flight recorder in the final minutes before the crash that killed all 150 passengers and crew on board.

Robin said the 144 passengers died ‘instantly’ and probably were not aware until the ‘very last moment’ of the impending disaster.

"The screams are heard only in the last moments before the impact," said the prosecutor.

"The co-pilot was alone at the controls," he said. "He ... refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot."

The pilot, believed to have gone to the toilet, made increasingly furious attempts to re-enter the cockpit, banging on the door, the recordings show.

There was no immediate clue as to the motive of the co-pilot, but investigators appeared to rule out terrorism.

"At this moment, there is no indication that this is an act of terrorism," Robin said, adding that Lubitz had no known terrorist connection.

Germany's interior minister echoed this, saying there was so far no indication of ‘a terrorist background.’

However, Robin also said he was unwilling to use the word ‘suicide’ and could not guess at Lubitz's motive.

"Usually when you commit suicide, you do it alone. When you're responsible for 150 people, I don't call that a suicide," he said.

The co-pilot, who deliberately set the controls ‘to accelerate the plane's descent’ into the side of a mountain in a region famous for its ski resorts, ‘was conscious until the moment of impact,’ Robin said.

"This action can only be deliberate. It would be impossible to turn the button by mistake. If you passed out and leaned over on it, it would only go a quarter-turn and do nothing," he stressed.

"He didn't reply to a thing. He didn't say a word. In the cockpit, it was utter silence."

'Deeply shaken'


Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said he was ‘stunned’ by the revelations and had ‘no indication’ on the motives of Lubitz.

He added that no security system in the world could have prevented the co-pilot's actions.

Spohr said Lubitz had passed all psychological tests required for training and underwent regular physical examinations.

The shocking new information was released as families and friends of victims were travelling to the remote mountainous crash site area, where locals have opened their doors in a show of solidarity with the grieving relatives.

Two planes arrived in southern France on Thursday from Barcelona and Duesseldorf with families and friends.

Tents were set up for them near the crash site area to give DNA samples to start the process of identifying the bodies of loved ones, at least 51 of whom were Spaniards and at least 72 Germans.

"We're all pitching in of course. There's no such thing as nationality, no such thing as religion," said one local volunteer, Charles Lanta.

Meanwhile, the remains of victims, found scattered across the scree-covered slopes, were being taken by helicopter to nearby Seyne-les-Alpes, a source close to the investigation told AFP.

A mountain guide who got near the crash site said he was unable to make out recognisable body parts.

"It's incredible. An Airbus is enormous. When you arrive and there's nothing there... it's very shocking," said the guide, who did not wish to be identified.

The crash site, which is situated at about 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) altitude, is accessible only by helicopter or an arduous hike on foot.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew over the site to see the devastation for themselves Wednesday. Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also visited a crisis centre near the scene.

Rajoy said he was ‘deeply shaken’ by the prosecutor's findings.

It was the deadliest air crash on the French mainland since 1974 when a Turkish Airlines plane crashed, killing 346 people.

Lufthansa said the aircraft was carrying citizens of 18 countries. Three Americans and three Britons were confirmed among the victims.

Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Holland, Israel, Japan, Mexico and Morocco also had nationals on board, according to officials.

The dead on board flight 4U 9525 included two babies and 16 German school exchange pupils. They were flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.

A second black box, which records flight data, has not yet been recovered.

 

Final minutes of doomed flight

The flight started like any other, the conversation in the cockpit perfectly normal, with co-pilot Andreas Lubitz offering no indication of the horror he would soon allegedly inflict on the other 149 people on board flight 4U 9525.

"For the first 20 minutes, they spoke in a normal fashion, courteous, like normal pilots. There was nothing abnormal," French prosecutor Brice Robin told reporters on Thursday.

He was relaying information from the cockpit voice recorder, captured by one of the ‘black boxes’ discovered among the debris of the Airbus A320 that crashed into the French Alps on Tuesday.

The plane had taken off from Barcelona around 10am local time, heading for Duesseldorf in Germany.
When the plane reached cruising altitude and been placed on auto-pilot, Lubitz and the other pilot, who has yet to be named, began discussing the landing in Duesseldorf.

The responses from Lubitz remained normal, but "very short... not a real dialogue," Robin said.

"Then we hear the pilot ask the co-pilot to take the controls and we hear the sound of a seat being pulled back and a door closing. We can assume he left to answer nature's call."

Once left alone, Lubitz turned a button on the flight monitoring system that began the plane's descent.

"This action can only be deliberate,"  Robin said. "It would be impossible to turn the button by mistake. If you passed out and leaned over on it, it would only go a quarter-way and do nothing."

The pilot returned from the toilet and tried to open the cockpit door, which is heavily reinforced to prevent hijackings and requires a code.

He may not have known the code, although Lufthansa chief Carsten Spohr said this was unlikely.

More probable, officials said, is that Lubitz deliberately locked the door from the inside, making it impossible for anyone to enter.

"The most plausible interpretation is that the co-pilot deliberately refused to open the cockpit door to the pilot," Roin said.

The black box then records increasingly frantic attempts by the pilot to break down the door, to which Lubitz makes no response.

'Total silence'

For the eight minutes after he began the descent, Lubitz was apparently calm and silent, breathing normally and showing no sign of panic.

"He does not say a single word. Total silence," Robin said.

The descent started over the town of Toulons in southern France, triggering concern from air traffic controllers who repeatedly tried to contact the plane.

As alerts came in on the fall in altitude and other changes, there was no response and no distress message from the plane.

Desperate ground controllers even asked nearby planes to try to make contact, but they, too, were unsuccessful.

The plane dropped gradually from around 10-12,000 metres (30,000 feet) to 2,000 m -- slowly enough, Robin said, that passengers would have been unaware anything was wrong.

"I think the victims were only aware at the very last moment. The screams are heard only in the last instants before the impact," said Robin.

The first sign of trouble would have come when alarms were automatically set off to indicate the plane was dangerously close to the ground.

Within moments, the plane had slammed into a mountainside at a speed of 700km per hour, Robin added.

Lubitz's motives remain entirely unknown.

Nor do the investigators know what would have happened if the pilot had not gone to the toilet.

"I'm not in the head of this co-pilot. Normally when we commit suicide, we do it alone. When you're responsible for 150 people behind, I don't necessarily call that suicide," Robin said.

EARLIER REPORT

Pilot of ill-fated plane locked out of cockpit

A pilot of the plane that crashed in the French Alps killing all 150 on board left the cockpit before the fateful descent and was left trying to smash the door down but still failed to get back in, a report said Wednesday.

The New York Times cited a senior military official involved in the investigation who had heard the cockpit voice recorder.

The official was quoted as saying that there was a 'very smooth, very cool' conversation between the two pilots during the early part of the doomed flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf on Tuesday.

Then the audio indicated that one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter, the investigator said.

"The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door and there is no answer," the investigator told the newspaper. "And then he hits the door stronger and no answer. There is never an answer.

"You can hear he is trying to smash the door down."

The official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is continuing, told The New York Times: "We don't know yet the reason why one of the guys went out.

"But what is sure is that at the very end of the flight, the other pilot is alone, and does not open the door."

Football team escapes death... 16 students do not

A Swedish third division football team booked on the doomed Germanwings flight that crashed Tuesday in the French Alps escaped death by changing flights at the last minute, the team said.

The Dalkurd FF team from Borlaenge, in central Sweden, was booked to fly home to Sweden on the budget carrier after a trip to Catalonia.

The Airbus A320, carrying 144 passengers and six crew from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, crashed in mountainous terrain in southeastern France killing all 150 on board.

Part of the vertical stabilizer of the Germanwings Airbus A320 at the crash site in the French Alps above the southeastern town of Seyne. (AFP)

But upon arrival at Barcelona airport, the team decided the layover in Duesseldorf would be too long so they re-booked themselves onto three other flights flying via Zurich and Munich.

"To all those who have tried to contact us in the past few hours we are home and we are fine. It was another plane. May they rest in peace," goalkeeper Frank Pettersson wrote on Twitter.

Sporting director Adil Kizil told daily Aftonbladet the team had a very close call.

"We were supposed to be on that plane."

Search and rescue personnel being lowered close to the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus A320 that crashed in the French Alps above the southeastern town of Seyne. (AFP)

"There were four planes that left around the same time and that flew north over the Alps. Four planes and we had players on three of them. You can say we were very, very lucky," he said.

Dalkurd FF is the Kurdish community's club in Sweden, and is followed by supporters from the Kurdish diaspora around the world.

The dead are believed to include Germans, Spaniards, probably Turks, and at least one Belgian national.

Students, teachers weep for classmates on doomed plane

Students and teachers at a small-town German high school broke down in tears once they realised that 16 classmates and two teachers were onboard an ill-fated Germanwings airplane that crashed in France on Tuesday on a flight to Duesseldorf.

The 10th grade students from the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school were on their way home after a week-long Spanish exchange programme at the Institut Giola in Llinars del Vallèsnear Barcelona. It was a reciprocal visit after 12 Spanish students had spent a week at their school in December.

Students gather at a memorial of flowers and candles in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium secondary school in Haltern am See, western Germany. (AFP)

"It was a Spanish language exchange programme and they were flying home after having what was probably the most wonderful time of their lives," said Sylvia Loehrmann, the education minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

"It's so tragic, so sad, so unfathomable," she said. Most of the students were about 15 years old.

The Airbus operated by Lufthansa's Germanwings budget airline crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 on board.

Germanwings confirmed its flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorfwent down with 144 passengers and six crew.

Haltern am See mayor Bodo Klimpel said that word spread quickly through the school about reports that a plane from Barcelona had gone missing and the students began researching on their own to try to find out more about the plane's fate.

"And then when the plane didn't land and they were unable to make contact with their friends and classmates by cell phone, that's when they assumed the worst had happened," said the mayor, who was also fighting off tears at a news conference.

The students were informed that there was a sufficient probability that the plane would not be landing in Duesseldorf,"Klimpel said. "Classes were then called off."

Condolence books are seen in a sports hall  in the southeastern French town of Seyne, near the site where a German Airbus A320 of the low-cost carrier Germanwings crashed, killing all 150 people on board. (AFP)

The town lies about 30 km (20 miles) to the north of Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen - homes of two major German soccer clubs and former mining towns. It is 50 km (30 miles) north of Duesseldorf.

Haltern am See's history dates back to 1289 and perhaps its most famous son in soccer player Christoph Metzelder, a former Germany defender who also played for Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid.

Germany defender Benedikt Hoewedes, who plays for Gelsenkirchen's Schalke 04 club, is also from Haltern am See.

The nearby Sixtus church and another local church opened their doors for students, teachers and local residents to mourn and flags in the town of 37,000 that lies just north of the Ruhr River Valley industrial area were lowered to half-mast.

The mayor of the Spanish town Llinars del Valles, MartiPujol, told Reuters that these kinds of exchanges had been organised for several years with German towns including in the Duesseldorf, Cologne and Hamburg areas. Spanish children had spent a week in December in Haltern am See with German families.

"The whole village is distraught, Pujol said of his town with 9,000 residents. "The families knew each other... The parents had been to see them off at 6 this morning."
 

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