Officials Fear No Survivors in Airbus Crash in Alps
About 150 people are feared dead in a plane crash in the French Alps Tuesday. French President Francois Hollande warned that there are probably "no survivors."
Authorities are not still not sure what caused the tragedy but the plane's black box was located Tuesday afternoon.
The Germanwings Airbus A320 plane, carrying 144 passengers and six crew members was scheduled to fly from Barcelona to Duesseldorf about 9:30 a.m.
It is believed to have gone down in a remote mountainous area in France around 10:45 a.m., making the search and rescue operation "extremely long and extremely difficult," a spokesman from the French Interior Ministry said.
A chilly rain in the area made rescue efforts even more challenging. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said a helicopter had landed near the crash site but has so far found no survivors.
"We must confirm to our deepest regret that Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Düsseldorf has suffered an accident over the French Alps," officials with Lufthansa, Germanwings' parent airline, stated on Twitter.
"Everyone at Germanwings and Lufthansa is deeply shocked and saddened by these events," the statement said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the passengers and crew members."
The airline also established a telephone hotline for the families of those on the plane. That toll-free number is 0800 11 33 55 77.
An owner of a campground near the crash site, Pierre Polizzi, said the plane was making curious noises just before it crashed.
"At 11:30, I heard a series of loud noises in the air. There are often fighter jets flying over, so I thought it sounded just like that. I looked outside, but I couldn't see any fighter planes," he told The Associated Press.
"The noise I heard was long, like eight seconds, as if the plane was going more slowly than a military plane speed," he said. "There was another long noise after about 30 seconds."
Polizzi estimates the plane crashed not far from his place.
"It's going to be very difficult to get there. The mountain is snowy and very hostile," he said.
Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann said the plane began descending shortly after it reached its cruising height following takeoff. Contact from the plane broke off at 10:53 a.m.
It is still unclear what caused the plane to crash. A spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council said there is no indication at this point the plane crash was the result of terrorism.
The pilot operating the plane had more than 10 years of experience working for Germanwings and Lufthansa. The airline has an excellent safety record and no previously reported accidents.
The nationalities of those onboard have not yet been released. A German official says a high school group with 16 members returning from a Spanish exchange was on board the Germanwings flight.
"In these difficult hours, our thoughts are will all those who must fear that their relatives are among the passengers or crew," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "deeply shocked" by this tragedy and plans to visit the crash site.