The Latest: Merkel, Hollande, Rajoy arrive near crash site

The leaders of Germany, France and Spain are gathering in the French Alps near the site of a German budget airlines crash to pay homage to the 150 victims.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived on a helicopter Wednesday on a mountain meadow whipped by strong winds. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also joined them at the scene, in the town of Seynes-les-Alpes.

Most of the passengers on the Barcelona-Duesseldorf flight Tuesday were German and Spanish, though people of many other nationalities were also aboard.

Hollande praised all the rescue workers who have been trying to retrieve debris and bodies from the hard-to-reach site.


2 p.m. (1300 GMT, 9 a.m. EDT)

Spain says it will send a six-member scientific police team to France to help with victim identification in the Germanwings plane crash, as soon as the bodies start to be bought down from the crash site.

Interior Ministry official Francisco Martinez also said six Spanish psychologists will be sent to the town of Seyne-Les-Alpes near the crash site and five to Marseille to help tend to victims’ families.

He said Spain has also offered to send army search and rescue teams if needed. Tuesday’s crash killed all 150 people aboard the flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.


1:50 p.m. (1250 GMT, 8:50 a.m. EDT)

U.S. President Barack Obama has called Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to express his condolences following the crash of the Germanwings plane in which at least 35 Spaniards died.

Obama conveyed “his condolences and those of the American people to Spain and to the families lost on the flight,” the U.S. Embassy in Madrid said. Obama also offered assistance from American officials.

Speaking in Parliament, British Prime Minister David Cameron also offered condolences on Tuesday’s crash that killed 150.

“It is heartbreaking to hear about the schoolchildren, the babies, the families whose lives have been brought to an end,” he said.

The British government believes three British nationals died, and is checking to see if there might have been more.


1:25 p.m. (1225 GMT, 8:25 a.m. EDT)

Germanwings has had to cancel a few flights since the crash because some crews declared themselves unfit to fly after losing colleagues.

A flight from Duesseldorf to Barcelona on Wednesday was scratched, along with some from Duesseldorf and Stuttgart on Tuesday.

Chief executive Thomas Winkelmann said some cockpit and cabin crews “didn’t want to fly today or yesterday for emotional reasons.”

He added that “the management completely understands this because we are a small family — everyone knows everybody inside Germanwings so it is a big shock for employees.”


1:15 p.m. (1215 GMT, 8:15 a.m. EDT)

Three generations of one family — a schoolgirl, her mother and grandmother — were on the Germanwings plane that crashed, according to a town outside Barcelona.

A statement from Sant Cugat del Valles town hall didn’t provide their names.

The girl was a student of a middle school for children aged 10 to 11 at Santa Isabel school in Sant Cugat.

“The students are very affected. The teachers are trying to help them any way they can,” said a woman who answered the phone at the school. She refused to give her name or comment further.

—By Associated Press writer Jorge Sainz in Madrid.


1 p.m. (1200 GMT, 8 a.m. EDT)

France’s aviation investigation bureau has released photos of the badly mangled voice data recorder from the Germanwings flight that crashed into an Alpine mountainside.

The images show the metal black box — which is actually a bright orange-red — twisted, dented and scarred by the impact of the crash.

The cockpit voice recorder was recovered on Tuesday, and French officials say they are working to pull its data.


12:50 p.m. (1150 GMT, 7:50 a.m. EDT)

Germanwings’ chief executive says the airline’s current information is that 72 Germans, 35 Spanish citizens and two Americans were on board the flight that crashed in southern France.

Thomas Winkelmann told reporters in Cologne on Wednesday that the list isn’t yet final because the company is still trying to contact relatives of 27 victims.

There were two victims each from Australia, Argentina, Iran and Venezuela. One victim each came from Britain, the Netherlands, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, Denmark, Belgium and Israel.

Winkelmann says in some cases victims’ nationality isn’t entirely clear, in part because of dual citizenship.

Spain’s government said they had identified 49 Spanish victims, while Britain says it believes there were at least three Britons on board.


12:40 p.m. (1140 GMT, 7:40 a.m. EDT)

Spain’s government says it has identified 49 Spanish victims of the Germanwings crash based on information from families and the flight list.

Interior Minister official Francisco Martinez says that the figure was provisional and could change.

Police in Barcelona say they have taken DNA samples from relatives of Spanish victims of the Germanwings crash to help with identification.

A spokeswoman said Wednesday they had taken 48 samples. She said more samples would be taken.

The samples, which will be sent to French authorities, were taken at Barcelona’s El Prat airport and at hotels where the families are being looked after.

—By Associated Press writer Jorge Sainz in Madrid.


12:20 p.m. (1120 GMT, 7:20 a.m. EDT)

Executives, pilots and employees of German airline Lufthansa have held a minute of silence at company headquarters for the 150 people who died in the Germanwings crash.

The Airbus A320 flown by Lufthansa’s low-cost division crashed on Tuesday in the Alps in southern France.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr, himself a pilot, observed the ceremony Wednesday at the company’s main base. He said it was “a very emotional moment, to stand there with so many colleagues in uniform.”

He said the company’s first priority was helping the relatives of those who died.

He said it was “inexplicable for us, how an airplane in good mechanical condition, with two experienced, Lufthansa-trained pilots, could encounter such a tragedy from cruising altitude.”

One of the plane’s black boxes has been recovered, and authorities are investigating.


12:15 p.m. (1115 GMT, 7:15 a.m. EDT)

Germany’s top security official says there is no evidence at this stage that foul play was involved in the plane crash in southern France.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that “according to the latest information there is no hard evidence that the crash was intentionally brought about by third parties.”

He says that authorities are nevertheless investigating all possible causes for the crash of a Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Spain on Tuesday in which 144 passengers and six crew members died.

De Maiziere appealed to media to refrain from speculation about the causes of the crash.


12:05 p.m. (1105 GMT, 7:05 a.m. EDT)

France’s air force says it scrambled a Mirage fighter jet to the area when the Germanwings flight lost radar contact, but arrived too late to help.

An air force spokesman said Wednesday that the Mirage 2000 took off minutes after it became clear that there was a problem and went to the A320’s last known location, but arrived after it crashed in the Alps on Tuesday.

The spokesman said that the Mirage didn’t locate the site of the crash. Helicopters later found the debris scattered across a mountainside. The spokesman wasn’t authorized to be publicly named according to military policy.

—By Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet in Paris.


12 p.m. (1100 GMT, 7 a.m. EDT)

The principal of the German high school where 16 students and two teachers died in the Germanwings crash says “nothing will be the way it was at our school anymore.”

Ulrich Wessel, principal of the Joseph Koenig High School, said Wednesday that when the first call came about the crash, he hoped that the students had missed the plane.

But the regional governor informed local officials that they were on the passenger list.

Wessel says one of the teachers who was on the plane had been married for less than six months.

He said: “It is a tragedy that makes one speechless and we will have to learn to deal with it.”

Wessel added: “I was asked yesterday how many students there are at the high school in Haltern, and I said 1,283 without thinking — then had to say afterward, unfortunately 16 fewer since yesterday. And I find that so terrible.”

The students had been on a weeklong exchange program in Spain.


11:50 a.m. (1050 GMT, 6:50 a.m. EDT)

In Spain, flags flew at half-staff on government buildings and a minute of silence was held at legislative and government buildings across the country in memory of the Germanwings crash victims. Spain’s national parliament canceled its normal Wednesday session out of respect.

Barcelona’s Liceu opera house held two minutes of silence at noon in homage to two opera singers — Oleg Bryjak and Maria Radner — who took the flight after performing at the theater last weekend.

In the small northeastern town of Llinars del Valles, parents and children attended a memorial service at the Giola Institute for the 16 German high school students and their two teachers who had been on an exchange program there for a week before boarding the plane. A minute of silence was held at the town hall at midday.


11:40 a.m. (1040 GMT, 6:40 a.m. EDT)

A French prosecutor says a joint investigative team will seek details about the Germanwings plane that crashed.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin says French, Spanish and German authorities would formally request information Wednesday about the plane’s maintenance and the conditions of its flight.


11:25 a.m. (1025 GMT, 6:25 a.m. EDT)

Britain’s foreign secretary says the government believes that at least three Britons have died in the Germanwings disaster.

Philip Hammond also said Wednesday morning that “we can’t rule out the possibility that there could be further British people involved.”


10:10 a.m. (0910 GMT, 5:10 a.m. EDT)

Students at the main high school in the western German town of Haltern are gathering by an ever-growing memorial of candles and flowers, weeping and hugging as they mourn the loss of 16 classmates and two teachers who died in a crash in the French Alps.

Lara Beer says her best friend, Paula, was aboard the aircraft.

Wiping tears from her eyes, the 14-year-old Beer says she was waiting for the train her friend was supposed to be on, but went home when she saw Paula wasn’t on it.

She says: “That’s when my parents told me Paula was dead.”

School classes have been cancelled but students are being encouraged to come in to talk with counsellors and friends. The crash of the Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf killed 150 people.


10 a.m. (0900 GMT, 5 a.m. EDT)

A Spanish school says a second group of about 30 German exchange students is in the Spanish town of Llinars del Valles, where 16 high schoolers stayed for a week before boarding a plane that crashed in the Alps.

An administrator for the Institut Ginebro says the students are from the Hamburg area and are scheduled to leave Llinars del Valles within hours, but that teachers are considering delaying the departure in the wake of the crash. That’s a different school than the one the students killed Tuesday had been attending.

The administrator spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because she was not authorized to speak publicly.

—By Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson in Llinars del Valle.


9:30 a.m. (0830 GMT, 4:30 a.m. EDT)

France’s transport minister says work is beginning on retrieving vital data from the cockpit voice recorder recovered from the crash site of the Germanwings flight that went down on an Alpine mountainside, killing 150 people.

Alain Vidalies told Europe 1 radio that the initial focus for the black box investigators will be “on the human voices, the conversations,” followed by the cockpit sounds.

Vidalies said no causes had been fully ruled out but “with what is already known the hypothesis of an intruder or an attack is unlikely.”

Lufthansa and Germanwings staff around the world will hold a minute of silence at 10.53 am (0953 GMT) Wednesday, Lufthansa said. That marks the time at which Germanwings has said contact with the plane was lost. Six Germanwings crew are among the dead.


8:55 a.m. (0755 GMT, 3:55 a.m. EDT)

The mayor of a town close to the site of the plane crash in the French Alps that killed 150 says bereaved families are expected to begin arriving in the town Wednesday morning.

Francis Hermitte, mayor of Seyne-Les-Alpes, says said local families are offering to host the families 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, Hermitte said.

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

Interior Ministry spokesman Paul-Henry Brandet says overnight rain and snow in the crash zone has made the rocky ravine slippery, increasing the difficulty of reaching the steep and remote area.


8:50 a.m. (0750 GMT; 3:50 a.m. EDT)

An Israeli citizen who lived in Spain was among the victims of the French plane crash, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

Eyal Baum was 39 and lived in Barcelona with his wife, his sister, Liat Baum, told Army Radio.

“He was amazing, with a winning smile. Whoever met him fell in love with him from the first moment,” Baum said, crying.

“The thought of what he went through in those moments is very difficult.”

The crash Tuesday of the Germanwings Airbus 320 killed 150 people. There were no survivors.

A delegation from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish movement Chabad is traveling to the crash site to help in rescue efforts, Chabad Rabbi Eliyahu Attia told Army Radio.


8:00 a.m. (0700 GMT, 3:00 a.m. EDT)

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says the black box recovered from the crash site has been damaged but is believed to be “useable.” He says it is the voice and cockpit sound recorder.

Cazeneuve told RTL radio on Wednesday that investigators were working to pull information from the black box voice recorder.

Although officials have been firm that no cause has been ruled out, Cazeneuve said terrorism is not considered likely.

Segolene Royal, another top French official, says the seconds between 10:30 a.m. and 10:31 a.m. are considered vital to the investigation into the crash. She says the pilot stopped responding after 10:31.


7:25 a.m. (0625 GMT, 2:25 a.m. EDT)

Pierre-Henry Brandet, spokesman for France’s Interior Ministry, says investigators are working to recover information from the black box retrieved from the scene of the crash. Brandet told French network iTele that recovery crews are expected to reach the site where the Germanwings went down sometimes Wednesday morning.

He said no causes had been ruled out in the crash that killed 150 on board


6:30 a.m. (0530 GMT, 1:30 a.m. EDT)

Helicopter operations have resumed over mountainsides in the French Alps where a German jetliner crashed, killing all 150 people on board.

Under overcast skies, with temperatures just above freezing, helicopters resumed flights Wednesday over a widely scattered debris field.

A black box has been recovered from the scene. The Airbus A320 operated by Germanwings, a budget subsidiary of Lufthansa, was less than an hour from landing in Duesseldorf on a flight from Barcelona Tuesday when it unexpectedly went into a rapid descent. The pilots did not send out a distress call and had lost radio contact with their control center, France’s aviation authority said.