The coffins of 15 of the 16 high school classmates killed in the Germanwings plane crash in March will travel in a hearse convoy back to their home town of Haltern on Wednesday, after being flown back to Germany from France.
Lufthansa airline brought the remains of 44 of the 150 people killed in the March 24 incident to Dusseldorf on Tuesday. They will now be returned to their families for burial.
Parents and relatives will be allowed to visit the coffins inside an airport hangar before the convoy, accompanied by a police motorcade, heads for Haltern. It is to pass by Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium, the school the teens attended.
"This entire event is a tragedy, especially for the parents, but we too lost our students and colleagues," said Ulrich Wessel, the high school's principal. Two of the teachers who had accompanied the teenagers on a school exchange trip to Spain were also killed in the crash.
"The families are in denial. They cannot and do not want to realize that their children are dead," said Elmar Giemulla, a lawyer for families of 34 of the victims. "It will be brutal when they see the coffins... but it is necessary, because they need closure."
The group was flying back from Barcelona to Dusseldorf when co-pilot Andreas Lubitz crashed the Airbus A320 against a mountainside in the French Alps. Prosecutors believe the 27-year-old co-pilot intentionally crashed the plane, and had been hiding psychological problems from his employer.
"It's especially difficult for the students of grade 10," Wessel said. "There used to be 150 students, now they are only 134... Many lost their best friends."
Wessel said psychologists had talked to the students this week and that they were all allowed to attend their schoolmates' funerals in the coming weeks.
Remains of the rest of the victims, of 19 different nationalities, will be sent back over the coming weeks. Nearly half of the victims were German and 47 others were Spanish.
It has taken a long time to return the remains in part because of errors on official death certificates that rendered them invalid. There were also challenges finding and identifying the remains in the remote area where the crash happened because the plane was traveling so fast that its tail slammed into the mountainside a split second after the nose did, vaporizing much of the aircraft and its contents.
The office of Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, who is leading a French investigation into the crash, said he will meet with victims' relatives on Thursday in Paris to go over the discovery of DNA evidence and explain the details of handing over remains.
Robin expects 300 to 400 people to attend the closed-door meeting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.