Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 Crashes in the French Alps After Rapid Descent, 150 People Killed

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An Airbus A320 plane operated by Germanwings drastically lost altitude over the span of eight minutes before crashing in the French Alps on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. There were no survivors.

Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 departed for Dusseldorf, Germany from Barcelona, Spain at 10:01 a.m. local time with 144 passengers and six crew members onboard. The plane climbed to a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, but only remained there for a few moments before it entered into a rapid descent for unknown reasons.

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GermanwingsEarly pictures of the wreckage has been shown on the Daily Mail website, showing debris in small pieces. Commentators have suggested that this could mean the plane collided with the ground at a high speed, but at this point in the crash investigation it is far too early to confirm airspeed at impact. A tourist in the area who heard the plane crash said the sound was deafening, almost like that of an avalanche.

French air traffic controllers lost contact with the airliner at an altitude of only 6,000 feet and no mayday call was ever issued from the cockpit. Some reports say that the altitude loss appears to have been a controlled descent at approximately 3000 feet per minute.

These factors have created speculation among aviation experts that the pilots may have been incapacitated leading up to the crash. Possible causes of pilot incapacitation are usually lack of oxygen or presence of noxious fumes, putting aside foul play.

The mystery is this: if the airplane was in a controlled rapid descent, the pilots must have had some reason for serious concern. Yet, contrary to their training, no radio call was made declaring an emergency. Moreover, if the descent was controlled to begin with, why was it not stopped at a safe altitude where supplemental oxygen is unnecessary? Could the pilots have had sufficient capacity to set up the airplane's autopilot to do the descent, but then lost capacity shortly thereafter, before they could make the radio call? It is hoped that the so-called black box (Flight Data Recorder) will go a long way in answering these questions.

Search and rescue teams were scrambled to the area where contact was lost; a remote part of the Alpes de Haute-Provence region in the southeast of France. Later in the day, a French military helicopter spotted the wreckage not far from the town of Prads-Haute-Bléone.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the media late Tuesday that there is no running hypothesis for what caused the crash at this time. He added that a judicial investigation has been opened.

As far as weather is concerned, Valls said conditions were particularly calm in the area of the crash at the time Flight 9525 crashed. Visibility was good with few clouds at low altitudes.

One of the flight's black boxes (the plane's cockpit voice recorder) was found late in the day. So far, French officials have struggled to obtain useful information from the cockpit voice recorder. They have thus far not told the media whether the recording contains useful information. They found the case of the other black box (the flight data recorder), but the recorder itself has not yet been found.

So far, officials say there were 45 Spaniards and 67 Germans aboard the ill-fated flight. Among the German victims were 16 school children who were participating in an exchange program with Catalan students. The U.S. State Department has confirmed that three American citizens were also aboard the flight. Two of them have been identified as Nokesville, Virginia residents Yvonne Selke and her daughter Emily Selke. The third victim has not yet been identified.

Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 Crash- What We Know

  • The Airbus A320, operated by Germanwings, was flying from Barcelona, Spain to Dusseldorf, Germany.
  • Contact with the airliner was lost at 10:53 a.m. local time when the plane was flying at an altitude of roughly 6,000 feet.
  • Despite falling from 38,000 feet to 6,000 feet in the span of eight minutes, no distress call was issued.
  • Officials say there were 150 people onboard, including two babies.
  • U.S. State Department has confirmed three of the passengers were American.
  • French officials have confirmed there were no survivors.
  • It is believed that there were 67 Germans on the flight, along with 45 Spaniards.
  • 16 school-aged children were on the flight.