Paris | A German airliner crashed near a ski resort in the French Alps today, killing all 150 people on board, in the worst plane disaster in mainland France in four decades. France’s junior transport minister said there were no survivors from the crash of the Germanwings Airbus A320, a low-cost subsidiary of Lufthansa, in a remote part of the Alps that is extremely difficult to access.
Civil aviation authorities said they lost contact with the plane, which was carrying 144 passengers and six crew, and declared it was in distress at 10:30 am (1500 IST). The distress signal showed the plane was at 5,000 feet in an abnormal situation, said Alain Vidalies, minister of state for transport.
Spanish King Felipe VI cut short his state visit to France on news of the tragedy, with a number of Spanish nationals believed to be among the dead along with Germans and possibly Turks. French President Francois Hollande said the plane crashed in an area very difficult to access and rescuers would not be able to reach the site for several hours.
I want to express all our solidarity to the families affected by this tragedy, Hollande told reporters. The plane was travelling from the Spanish coastal city of Barcelona to the German city of Duesseldorf when it went down in the ski resort area of Barcelonnette. A witness who was skiing near the crash site told a French television channel he heard an enormous noise around the time of the disaster.
A French police helicopter dispatched to the site of the crash reported spotting debris in a mountain range known as Les Trois Eveches, which reaches 1,400 metres in altitude. The government said major rescue efforts had been mobilised, but accessing the remote region would present severe challenges. The zone is snow-bound and inaccessible to vehicles, but could be overflown by helicopters, said Vidalies.
The plane belonged to Germanwings, a low-cost affiliate of German airline Lufthansa based in Cologne which until now had no record of fatal accidents. France’s leading air traffic controller union SNCTA has called off a strike planned from tomorrow to Friday. We are suspending our planned strike as a result of the emotions created in the control rooms by the crash, particularly in Aix-en-Provence, the union’s spokesman Roger Rousseau told AFP.
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