More than 140 believed dead in latest air disaster

A passenger plane flying from Barcelona to Düsseldorf has crashed in a remote and mountainous area of southern France, officials have confirmed.

The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, said he fears between 142 and 150 people have been killed.

The Airbus A320 making the flight for Lufthansa’s lowcost arm, Germanwings, crashed near the small mountain village of Barcelonette in the southern Alps.

A distress call was made by the aircraft at 10.47am, while the plane was “in an abnormal situation”, the French transport ministry said. The crash happened shortly afterwards, it added.

The aircraft disappeared off the radar at around 11.20am, Le Figaro reported. The plane dropped from 38,000 feet to 6,925 feet in nine minutes between 10.31 and 10.40, air radar services said.

At least 142 passengers and six crew-members on board. Spain’s deputy prime minister said 45 passengers were believed to be Spanish nationals. A spokesman for France’s interior ministry said the passenger manifest was being verified.

The plane crashed at 2,000 metres altitude in the Alps, in the commune of Méolans-Revel, an isolated area of small villages and hamlets that are difficult to reach.

The French weather station says the meteorogical conditions were calm at the time of the accident and that the sky was “completely clear”, with almost non-existent wind.

Gilles Gravier, president of Tourism in the Val d’Allos ski resort area, said nothing of the crash had been heard from the pistes in his village. He said 400 gendarmes, firefighters and emergency search and rescue personnel had been mobilised but the zone was “extremely difficult” to get to.

Florent Plazy, director of the local ski school ESF, confirmed the area was hard to access even for mountain walkers.

Eric Ciotti, the head of the regional council, said search-and-rescue teams were headed to the crash site but Pierre-Henry Brandet, the interior ministry spokesman, told BFM television that he expected “an extremely long and extremely difficult” operation because of the area’s remoteness.

“The aircraft debris has been localised, and we can only fear a heavy death toll. The first information from rescuers suggests that the number of survivors, if there are any, will be low, but until we have reached the site by land, we cannot say with any certitude. The rescuers are being taken in by helicopter.”

The French president, François Hollande, said it was likely there were no survivors.

He said the crash happened in “an area that was very difficult to access” and did not know yet whether any homes had been affected on the ground. “Solidarity is our first sentiment at this moment,” he said.

Spain’s airport operator, Aena, has confirmed that the plane left Barcelona at 8.55am, a slight delay from its expected departure of 8.35am but did not know the reason for the delay. It said it had designated a special room in Terminals 1 and 2 of Barcelona’s El Prat airport for family members and media.

Airbus said it was aware of reports about the crash.

“We are aware of the media reports,” Airbus said on Twitter. “All efforts are now going towards assessing the situation. We will provide further information as soon as available.”

The crashed A320 is 24 years old and has been with the parent Lufthansa group since 1991, according to online database airfleets.net.

Source: The Guardian