Plane tragedy rocks school

Pupils, staff among 150 on board doomed flight

PUPILS and teachers at a small-town German high school broke down in tears once they realised that 16 classmates and two teachers were on board an ill-fated Germanwings plane that crashed in France yesterday on a flight to Duesseldorf.

The Grade 10 pupils from the Joseph Koenig Gymnasium school in Haltern am See, about 50km north of Duesseldorf, were on their way home after a week-long Spanish language exchange programme at the Institut Giola, in Llinars del Vallès near Barcelona. Most of them were about 15 years old.

The Airbus, operated by Lufthansa’s Germanwings budget airline, crashed in a remote snowy area of the French Alps, killing all 150 on board.

Germanwings confirmed its flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf went down with 144 passengers and six crew.

It is one of the worst plane disasters in France.

French aviation officials said the airliner crashed near the town of Barcelonnette, about 100km north of the French Riviera city of Nice, not far from the Italian border.

The accident happened in an alpine region known for skiing, hiking and rafting, but which is hard for rescue services to reach.

French police at the crash site said no one had survived and it would take days to recover the bodies. The plane’s black box had been found.

Haltern am See mayor Bodo Klimpel said word spread quickly through the school about reports that a plane from Barcelona had gone missing and pupils began researching on their own to try to find out more about its fate.

“And then when the plane didn’t land and they were unable to make contact with their friends and classmates by cellphone, that’s when they assumed the worst had happened,” the mayor said, fighting off tears.

“The students were informed that there was a sufficient probability that the plane would not be landing in Duesseldorf.”

The pupils were sent home but many returned later with candles in their hands and tears in their eyes to mourn with each other. “It’s the darkest day in this town’s histor y,” Klimpel said. The school would be opened today but there would not be normal lessons.

The airline believed there were 67 Germans onboard. Spain’s deputy prime minister said 45 passengers had Spanish names.

Investigators described a scene of devastation.

“The aircraft had been ripped apart, not one piece is intact. The bodies are in a state of destruction,” Marseille prosecutor Bruce Robin said after flying over the crash zone.

In Paris, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told parliament: “A helicopter managed to land at the site and it has been confirmed that there were no survivors.”

It was the first crash of a large passenger jet on French soil since the Concorde disaster just outside Paris nearly 15 years ago.

The A320 is the world’s most used passenger jet.

Germanwings said the plane started descending one minute after reaching its cruising height and continued losing altitude for eight minutes.

Managing director Thomas Winkelmann said routine maintenance of the jet was done by Lufthansa on Monday.

France’s DGAC aviation authority said the Airbus did not issue a distress call.

– Reuters