Two Americans on board German jetliner that crashed in Alps – Fox News

Posted: Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Two Americans were on board the doomed German jetliner that crashed into the French Alps early Tuesday, killing 150 people, officials said.

Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann told reporters in Cologne Wednesday the airline’s current information is that 72 Germans and 35 Spanish citizens and the two Americans were on the plane. He said the airline is still trying to contact relatives of 27 other victims. Sixteen passengers were from eight other countries, including Australia and Israel.

Information on the passengers came as France’s Interior Minister said Wednesday that the recovered cockpit voice recorder from Germanwings Flight 9525 had been damaged when the plane crashed, but added that it could still be “usable” in the investigation, while another top French official said authorities were focused on what happened in the final seconds before air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane. 

Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio that the recorder “is damaged and must be reconstituted in the coming hours in order to be useable.” The recorder was found hours after the Airbus A320 went down in a remote part of the French Alps Tuesday morning. The cockpit voice recorder could provide vital clues about the condition of the pilots during the plane’s final plunge from a cruising height of 38,000 feet to around 6,000 feet just prior to the crash.

Meanwhile, Segolene Royal, France’s Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, said Wednesday that the pilots stopped responding to radio calls after 10:31 a.m. local time, about 30 minutes into the flight. She said that the seconds after 10:30 a.m. are considered vital to the investigation.

Investigators retrieving data from the recorder will focus first “on the human voices, the conversations” followed by the cockpit sounds, Transport Secretary Alain Vidalies told Europe 1 radio. He said the government planned to release information gleaned from the black box as soon as it can be verified.

Meanwhile, emergency workers continued the grim task Wednesday of recovering bodies and searching for the flight data recorder, the second of the so-called “black boxes,” as investigators tried to piece together the many puzzles surrounding the crash that is believed to have killed all 150 passengers and crew on board.  

The single-aisle, medium-haul plane operated by a subsidiary of Lufthansa was less than an hour from completing its scheduled flight to Dusseldorf from Barcelona Tuesday morning when it unexpectedly went into a rapid descent, losing contact with air traffic controllers on the ground.

France’s civil aviation authority said the pilots had not sent out a distress call before losing radio contact with their control center. Instead, the Wall Street Journal reported that air traffic controllers issued an alarm after the plane disappeared from their radar screens. Moments later, the paper reported, the French military ordered a fighter jet to the area where the plane was last tracked.

Both Cazenueve and Royal said that terrorism was considered unlikely to have been the cause of the crash, though it has not been formally ruled out. That is in keeping with the stance of governments on both sides of the Atlantic. On Tuesday, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said, “There is no indication of a nexus to terrorism at this time.” The Journal reported that the French government had assigned prosecutors based in the nearby city of Marseilles to investigate the crash rather than its anti-terrorism unit, which is headquartered in Paris. 

In another twist, the secretary-general of France’s air traffic controllers union said that the plane did not appear to deviate from its flight plan as it went down, which is unusual for an aircraft in distress. 

“If there’s a loss of control, pilots usually lose their way too,” Roger Rousseau told the Journal. “That didn’t happen in this case.”

“We cannot say at the moment why our colleague went into the descent, and so quickly, and without previously consulting air traffic control,” Germanwings’ director of flight operations, Stefan-Kenan Scheib, said Tuesday.

The wreckage was located at an altitude of about 6,550 feet at Meolans-Revels, near the popular ski resort of Pra Loup. The remote site is 430 miles south-southeast of Paris. French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the crash site covered several acres, with thousands of pieces of debris, “which leads us to think the impact must have been extremely violent at very high speed.”

Complicating the recovery and investigation is the inaccessibility of the site by road, forcing emergency workers to choose between hiking up from a base established in a nearby village or rappelling down from helicopters unable to land on the uneven terrain. Operations were abandoned Tuesday after conditions deteriorated, and Interior Ministry spokesman Paul-Henry Brandet said overnight rain and snow had made the rocky ravine slippery, increasing the difficulty of reaching the area.

Families of the victims were expected to arrive in Seyne-Les-Alpes, the closest town to the crash site Wednesday morning, according to the town’s mayor. Francis Hermitte, said local families are offering to host the victims’ relatives because of a shortage of rooms to rent. Leaders of France, Germany and Spain will also meet with them in a makeshift chapel set up in a gymnasium.

Marion Cotterill, head of civil protection there, said the priority is to welcome families humanely. “We offer a hot drink, a smile, a warm regard, or psychological counseling if asked for.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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