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Search resumes for air crash victims

Cockpit voice recorder found as investigation into what caused plane to crash in French Alps continues

THE SEARCH for 150 victims of the worst aviation disaster on French soil since 1981 resumed at dawn today, as mystery surrounds why the Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed into the southern Alps, near Digne-les-Bains, yesterday.

More than 300 police and 380 firefighters have been drafted-in to the grisly search for bodies and clues amid the wreckage - which is spread over a wide area.

Video footage broadcast on BFMTV reveals the scale of the task in difficult, mountainous terrain accessible only by helicopter.

Yesterday, interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve and ecology and transport minister Ségolène Royal arrived at the scene. Ms Royal said all possible scenarios are being looked to determine the cause of the tragedy, but said terrorism is not the main focus of the probe.

Gilbert Sauvan, president of the general council for the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, also visited the crash site yesterday: “Everything is pulverised,” he told reporters. “The largest pieces of debris are the size of a small car.”

This afternoon, French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy are expected to visit the area.

Investigators have recovered the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and it has been taken to Paris. Although damaged, it should provide crucial information about why the routine flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf crashed, including why the crew did not apparently respond to air traffic controllers’ attempts to contact them during the eight minutes it took for the plane to descend from a cruising height of 38,000ft.

But it took rescuers hours to reach the crash site yesterday and it is feared that it could take several days for the victims’ remains and all the evidence from the wreckage, including the second black box, to be collected.

The Airbus A320 was en route from Barcelona in Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany, when it came down yesterday morning less than an hour into its flight at Meolans-Revels, between Barcelonnette and Digne-les-Bains.

Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, said it was working on the assumption that the crash was an "accident", and insisted that it is too early to speculate about what could have gone wrong.

Germanwings said the pilot had more than 10 years’ experience and 6,000 flying hours on an Airbus, while the weather was mostly clear at the time of the crash.

Two Colombians, two Argentinians, two Australians, 67 Germans, 45 Spaniards, three Mexicans, two Japanese, one Turkish national, one Belgian and one Dutch passenger have now been confirmed as being among those killed in what Germanwings described as a “tragic accident”.

Britain’s foreign secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement: “Based on the information available to us, it is sadly likely that there were some British nationals on board the flight.” The Manchester Evening News is reporting that a mother living in the city and her seven-month-old baby were among those killed.

Two babies were on board the plane, along with a two well-known opera singers, a mother and son enjoying a holiday together, and 16 students from one school in the small town of Haltern-am-See, near Düsseldorf. They were returning home from a student exchange trip to Spain.

Germanwings cancelled seven flights out of Düsseldorf yesterday because crew members felt unfit to fly following news of the accident.

Image: BFMTV screengrab

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