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Black box found from Germanwings plane crash in French Alps

The airplane was about 24 years old and has been with Lufthansa since 1991.

By
Andrew V. Pestano

PARIS, March 24 (UPI) -- A Germanwings plane carrying 150 people, including German high school students, crashed in the French Alps in southern France on Tuesday.

One of the black boxes has been found, according to French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

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The airplane was decimated, with no pieces of debris larger than a small car, according to the president of Alpes de Haute Provence region, Gilbert Sauvan. Human remains have been found for several hundred feet all over the crash site.

The ground is frozen and helicopters are not able to land, making retrieval of bodies difficult. Continued snow is forecast for Wednesday.

The search at the site was called off after darkness set in.

The Airbus A320, Flight 4U 9525 operated by Lufthansa-owned company Germanwings, was en route from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany.

German media outlets report that about 14 German high school students and two teachers on the way back from an exchange trip were among the 144 passengers. Six crew members were also aboard.

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"It's tragic, I'm stunned," schools minister for the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Sylvia Löhrmann, said in an interview with WDR radio.

Hans-Josef Böing, deputy mayor of the town of Haltern, said the students and teachers from Joseph König high school were booked on the flight and feared they may be crash victims.

"We must fear that that's the case," he said. Haltern has a population of about 38,000.

French President Francois Hollande said called the crash a tragedy.

"The conditions of the accident, which have not yet been clarified, lead us to think there are no survivors," Hollande said, adding that the crash site is difficult to access.

Hollande contacted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to express his sympathy. Merkel said she plans to visit the crash site.

"This is the hour in which we all feel deep sorrow," she told reporters.

The cause of the crash is unknown, according to French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Investigators said no distress call from the aircraft was sent prior to the crash.

Al Diehl, a former crash investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, told USA Today the high rate of speed at which the plane was traveling at a low altitude indicated "extreme distress."

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"When you get down the below the levels of the mountains and you're still going over 400 knots, either you're totally incapacitated or you have a horrific onboard emergency, or mechanically the aircraft is just not functioning," Diehl said. "You'd never fly an aircraft at 400 mph-plus anywhere close to those extreme terrain features."

Germanwings confirmed the crash in a statement.

We must confirm to our deepest regret that Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf has suffered an accident over the French Alps. The flight was being operated with an Airbus A320 aircraft, and was carrying 144 passengers and six crew members. Lufthansa and Germanwings have established a telephone hotline. The toll-free 0800 11 33 55 77 number is available to all the families of the passengers involved for care and assistance. Everyone at Germanwings and Lufthansa is deeply shocked and saddened by these events. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the passengers and crew members.

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The plane was about 24 years old and has been with Lufthansa since 1991.

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