The Airbus A320 – flight 4U 9525 – went down between Digne and Barcelonnette. There are no survivors, officials say.
The “black box” flight recorder has been found, France’s interior minister says. The cause of the crash is not known and the plane sent no distress signal during an eight-minute descent.
So what do we know about this specific incident? And what might have led to the obliteration of this plane, and the likely loss of all 150 people on board?
It’s important to understand that airplanes don’t just fall out of the sky for no apparent reason. And, quite frankly, airplanes don’t just fall out of the sky even if a problem is experienced. As we witnessed from the U.S. Airways plane landing on the Hudson River in 2009, airliners can still fly without engine power.
Germanwings said the plane started losing altitude one minute after it reached cruising height, and continued to descend for eight minutes before the crash.
The plane crashed in a remote area of the French Alps, about 65 miles north of the riviera city of Nice.
A helicopter that was able to reach the crash site confirmed that there were no survivors, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.
Officials believe 67 of those aboard the plane were German citizens. Forty-five of the passengers had Spanish names, Spain’s deputy prime minister said.
The passengers included a German school class on its way back from an exchange trip as well as two opera singers, Maria Radner and Oleg Bryjak.
Ms Radner was travelling with her husband and baby.
The flight was also carrying citizens of Australia, Turkey, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said it was “sadly likely” that some British nationals were on board.
Another potential (although less likely) scenario is that a gradual loss of pressurization at high altitude may have created a hypoxia situation, rendering the crew unable to function normally. An explosive loss of pressurization is obvious, something airline crews train for frequently. But a slow loss of pressurization is sometimes difficult to recognize or detect initially. With the crew disabled, the airplane struck terrain.
But the truth is that at this point, anything is possible. The investigation process has to play itself out. The only thing that seems certain is that there was more than one factor that contributed to this tragedy.