A black box has been uncovered from the site of the Germanwings plane that crashed in the French Alps early this morning with 150 people on board, authorities told media on Tuesday evening.
"A black box that we found a few hours after the crash will immediately be examined to help the investigation move forward quickly," French Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said, according to Reuters. The Minister noted that they would be securing the area at some point this evening, allowing emergency services to access the site.
The Airbus A320 aircraft crashed into the French Alps just before 11am with 144 passengers and six crew members on board, according to aviation officials and police. The jet crashed in the south of France between the two cities of Digne-les-Bains and Barcelonette — around 93 miles north of the city of Nice.
The plane, operated by Lufthansa's budget airline Germanwings, was en route to Düsseldorf from Barcelona in Spain. The Deputy Mayor of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Christopher Castaner, traveled to the site on Tuesday and tweeted about the scene on the ground, saying nothing was left except for "debris and bodies." The first images of the crash site surfaced on Twitter via French media, reportedly showing debris from the plane.
Speaking on Tuesday, French President François Hollande said all individuals on board were feared dead. "The conditions of the accident, which have not yet been clarified, lead us to think there are no survivors," Hollande said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "shocked" by the news of the accident, and spoke of "a profound trauma." She announced she would travel to the crash site on Wednesday. The German government also said it would send its transport and foreign affairs ministers to the French crash site later today.
King Felipe VI of Spain said Tuesday he would cut short a long-planned visit to France in the wake of the crash. Speaking from the French presidential palace, the king said he was "distraught" by the news, and extended his support to the victims' families.
During a press conference today, a Germanwings spokesperson said the company was still working to confirm the nationality of the passengers. "We estimate there were 67 Germans on board the plane, but we still have to confirm this," the spokesperson said.
In Barcelona this afternoon, families of the passengers on board the flight gathered at the airport, with police on hand to escort them away from media who had also flocked to the scene. Spain's Vice President Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told Spanish public television TVE that 45 of the passengers had Spanish surnames.
The airline's CEO Thomas Winkelmann confirmed that two babies were on the flight. According to Reuters, 16 high school students from Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in northwest Germany, along with two of their teachers, were also on board the flight.
Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr said on Twitter that it was a "dark day" for his company.
"We do not yet know what has happened to flight 4U9525. My deepest sympathy goes to the families and friends of our passengers and crew," Lufthansa tweeted, using Spohr's name. "If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa. We hope to find survivors."
The DGAC (French Civil Aviation Authority) told the French newspaper La Provence that the plane disappeared from the radar and issued an "emergency distress" message at 10.47am local time, close to an hour after takeoff. Police helicopters flying around the crash site have spotted some debris in the Trois-Evêchés mountain, an area that is well known by hikers but almost uninhabited.
The recovery operation began in the French Alps on Tuesday morning.
According to radio station France Info, some debris has been spotted at around 6,000 feet high — the mountains in the area are almost 10,000 feet high.
Germanwings is Lufthansa's low-cost line, created in 2002 and bought by the German national carrier in 2009. The company is based in Cologne and has a fleet of 80 planes — two third of which are made by Airbus. Lufthansa delegates its medium-haul flights across Europe to Germanwings and it serves 130 destinations across the continent.
The Airbus A320 is the second best-selling plane in the world, can carry up to 170 passengers, and was launched back in 1988. In 1992, an A320 crashed in the Sainte-Odile mountain in Alsace, France, killing 87 people. According to Flight Radar 24, the Germanwings plane was one of the oldest and was delivered in 1990. Airbus has stated it has no information on the situation at the current time.
Footage filmed in Palma on Spain's Balearic Islands in 2014 shows the Germanwings-operated Airbus A320 with registration D-AIPX. This is the plane reported to have been involved in today's crash in the French Alps.
According to President Hollande, there are no expectations of finding any survivors. During a press conference, he said: "The conditions of the accident, which have not yet been clarified, lead us to think there are no survivors. I want to express my solidarity with the victims' families. We don't know yet the nationalities of the victims."
Hollande added: "It is likely that there is a large number of German victims… This is a new air tragedy. We will have to know all the causes that led this to happen."
He ended his speech saying that he was going to talk to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the king of Spain, Felipe VI, who is now in France for his first state visit.
Image via Flickr