An Airbus 320 flying from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany, crashed in the alps of southern France on Tuesday morning.
The Germanwings flight was carrying 144 passengers and six crew members. Officials said they are not expecting survivors.
Two Australians have been confirmed among the passengers on board the flight.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Federal Government’s thoughts and prayers were with the families of the deceased, identified only as a mother and her adult son from Victoria.
“We will do what we can to support Australian families affected by this tragedy,” she promised.
Bishop said Australian teams would be involved in the recovery effort, offering assistance set up a mobile office near the crash site.
“Everything is pulverized,” Gilbert Sauvan, president of the general council of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, told the Associated Press.
“We saw an aircraft that had literally been ripped apart, the bodies are in a state of destruction, there is not one intact piece of wing or fuselage,” Bruce Robin, prosecutor for the city of Marseille, told Reuters in Seyne-les-Alpes after flying over the crash zone in a helicopter.
An owner of a nearby camping site told Al Jazeera that he heard the plane come down.
“The plane crashed just 2 kilometers [1.2 miles] from here, high on a mountain,” Pierre Polizzi said. “There was loud noise and then suddenly nothing. At first I thought it came from fighter jets that often hold drills in the area.”
The plane dropped to a cruising altitude of just 5,000 feet from 38,000 feet in about 8 minutes.
“The aircraft’s contact with French radar, French air traffic controllers ended at 10.53 am at an altitude of about 6,000 feet. The plane then crashed,” Lufthansa unit Germanwings’ managing director, Thomas Winkelmann, said during a press conference.
A local official told The New York Times that “an initial survey of the area by a helicopter showed that debris had been spread over five acres of a very craggy area.”
Here’s a view of the scene:
And here’s video:
The flight crashed in the Digne region, which is about a half hour north of Marseille, Bloomberg reports. The area where the plane reportedly went down is mountainous, isolated, and rural.
Weather conditions were reportedly good at the time of the crash.
The pilot of the plane had 10 years of experience of flying for Lufthansa, German officials said during a press conference. Officials said the plane had been last checked by technicians on Monday.
Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and author of the book “Cockpit Confidential,” told Business Insider that it’s way too early to tell what happened to the plane.
“Everyone wants to come up with some sort of possible cause, and there’s no way to do that. It could be one of a thousand things,” Smith said. “It takes a long time, sometimes years before we know for sure what happened.”
Smith said nothing has jumped out at him so far that could point to a possible cause.
Polizzi, the campground owner, told the Associated Press: “The noise I heard was long — like 8 seconds — as if the plane was going more slowly than a military plane speed. There was another long noise after about 30 seconds.”
Dozens of firefighters and police officers headed to the crash site, according to the French newspaper Le Monde, as well as French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the search-and-rescue operation would be long and extremely difficult because the area is so remote. It’s thought to be inaccessible by land vehicles.
The airline thought there were 67 Germans on the flight, including 16 children and two teachers. Spain’s deputy prime minister said 45 passengers had Spanish names.
Bodies from the crash are being taken to an emergency morgue that has been set up in a nearby gym, according to a reporter for the Daily Mirror.
Flight 4U9525 was from the budget airline Germanwings, which is based in Cologne and was founded in 2002. It is wholly owned by Lufthansa.
The Airbus plane that crashed was 24 years old and has been with Lufthansa since 1991, according to Reuters.
Germanwings said in a statement that the plane that crashed had accumulated about 58,300 flight hours on 46,700 flights.
There have been several other major plane crashes in Europe during the past several years:
Last major Europe air crashes: 2014 with MH17 in Ukraine, 2010 with Polish president’s plane, 2009 Air France from Rio-Paris, 2008 in Madrid
— Harriet Alexander (@h_alexander) March 24, 2015
French President Francois Hollande, in Spain, tweeted a statement expressing solidarity with the families of the victims.
The BI London Bureau contributed to this report.
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