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Analysis: Crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 - Investigation and Latest Responses

Published: March 25, 2015; 11:00 · Updated: March 26; 14:30 · (FriedlNews)

Yesterday Germanwings Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, an Airbus A320-200, crashed around 100 kilometres (62 mi) northwest of Nice, in the French Alps. All 144 passengers and six crew members died. People on board by nationality were: Germany 67, Spain 45, Kazakhstan 3, Mexico 3, Argentina 2, Australia 2, Colombia 2, Croatia 2, Japan 2, Morocco 2, Belgium 1, Denmark 1, Israel 1, Netherlands 1, Turkey 1, United Kingdom Several (unconfirmed), and unknown 15. The aircraft had reached its cruising altitude, flight level 380 (approx. 38,000 ft [12,000 m]) at 9:27 GMT. Three minutes later the aircraft began its descent - the purpose of the descent is not currently known. 14 minutes after the initial descent, radar contact with the aircraft was lost. Meanwhile the first cockpit voice recorder was recovered by rescue workers and is being examined by the investigation team. The recorder was damaged in the crash, but was said to be still in a "usable" condition. The search for the flight data recorder was to be a priority when the recovery operation resumed. It is the third-deadliest crash of an Airbus A320, after TAM Airlines Flight 3054 and Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501, and the third-deadliest aviation disaster on French soil, after Turkish Airlines Flight 981 and Inex-Adria Aviopromet Flight 1308. Unusually, the plane appears not to have deviated from its flight plan during its descent.

This aircraft Airbus A320 (D-AIPX) crashed on 24 March 2015 in the French Alps as Germanwings Flight 9525 / Picture: © Wikipedia / Ampsbears

Germanwings Flight 9525 (4U9525/GWI9525) was a scheduled international passenger flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, operated by Lufthansa-owned low-cost airline Germanwings.

On 24 March 2015, the aircraft serving that flight, an Airbus A320-200, crashed around 100 kilometres (62 mi) northwest of Nice, in the French Alps.

All 144 passengers and six crew were killed.

It is the third-deadliest crash of an Airbus A320, after TAM Airlines Flight 3054 and Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501, and the third-deadliest aviation disaster on French soil, after Turkish Airlines Flight 981 and Inex-Adria Aviopromet Flight 1308.

It is the deadliest aviation accident in 2015, with the highest death toll of any aviation incident since December 2014.

The aircraft involved was an Airbus A320-211, serial number 147, registered as D-AIPX. Its first flight was on 29 November 1990, and it was delivered to Lufthansa on 5 February 1991. It served with Germanwings for the first time in 2003. It was returned to Lufthansa in 2004 and was re-transferred to the relaunched Germanwings on 31 January 2014. The aircraft had accumulated about 58,300 flight hours on 46,700 flights. The original Design Service Goal (DSG) of the aircraft was 60,000 hours or 48,000 flights. In 2012 an optional Extended Service Goal (ESG1) was approved, extending the service life to 120,000 hours or 60,000 flights, provided that a required package of service and inspections were performed before the DSG was reached.

Flight 9525 took off from Runway 07R at Barcelona–El Prat Airport at around 10:01 CET (09:01 UTC) and was due to arrive at Düsseldorf Airport by 11:39 CET (10:39 UTC). The flight's scheduled departure time was at 9:35 CET (08:35 UTC).

The French aviation authority Direction générale de l'aviation civile (DGAC) declared the aircraft in distress after the aircraft's descent and loss of radio contact. The aircraft had reached its cruising altitude, flight level 380 (approx. 38,000 ft [12,000 m]) at 9:27 GMT. Three minutes later the aircraft began its descent —the purpose of the descent is not currently known. 14 minutes after the initial descent, radar contact with the aircraft was lost. The aircraft crashed within the territory of the remote commune of Prads-Haute-Bléone, which is about 100 kilometres (62 mi) north-west of Nice. Radar contact was lost at 10:53; at the time, the aircraft was flying at an altitude of about 6,800 ft (2,100 m).

The crash is the deadliest air disaster in France since the crash of Inex-Adria Aviopromet Flight 1308 in 1981, which killed 180 people. This was also the first major crash of a civil airliner in France since the Air France Flight 4590 Concorde crash near Paris in 2000.

The crash site is within the Massif des Trois-Évêchés and is also close to Mount Cimet* (fr), where Air France Flight 178 crashed in 1953. (*Mount Cimet or Cemet is a mountain of the French Alps in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence).

Police and Sécurité Civile sent helicopters to locate the wreckage. A picture from the accident site was released, with the report that the aircraft had disintegrated, the largest piece of wreckage being "the size of a car". According to French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a helicopter which landed near the site of the crash confirmed that there were no survivors. The search and rescue team reported that the debris field is two square kilometres (0.77 sq mi) in size. Unusually, the plane appears not to have deviated from its flight plan during its descent.

The French Aviation Authority has set up temporary flight restrictions in the area surrounding the crash site. The prohibited area was first set starting from 24 March at 11:47 GMT (12:47 CET) a circle radius of 3 nautical miles (5.6 km) centred at 44°16′50″N 6°26′25″E staring from FL000 up to FL140.[28] Later, on 24 March at 13:38 GMT (14:38 CET), a second larger area was added to cover a radius of 10 nautical miles (19 km; 12 mi) centered at 44°16′48″N 6°26′24″E from FL000 to FL100. Entry into the airspace is forbidden, except for state flights or for rescue missions.

Rescue efforts were suspended overnight by the French authorities to ensure the safety of the rescuers. Several gendarmes were posted to guard the crash site through the night.

It was initially reported that most of the passengers were German, but the Spanish government later reported that there were 45 Spanish and possibly some Turkish citizens on board. Germanwings stated that 67 German citizens may have been on board, including 16 students and two teachers from the Joseph-König-Gymnasium, Haltern am See, North Rhine-Westphalia. They were on their way home from a student exchange with the Giola Institute in Llinars del Vallès, Catalonia. Haltern's mayor, Bodo Klimpel, has described it as "the darkest day in the history of our city."

Initial reports stated there were 146 people on board, but later reports have indicated there were 144 passengers and six crew members, including Turkish, Belgian, German, Dutch, Danish and Spanish nationals. A Germanwings representative announced that the captain had 10 years of flying experience (6000 flight hours) with Germanwings and Lufthansa. The Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed an Israeli citizen was onboard. It was also reported Spanish filmmaker Marina Bandres was among the passengers.

The Deutsche Oper am Rhein confirmed that bass-baritone Oleg Bryzhak was among the passengers, as were German contralto Maria Radner, her husband, and their infant child.

People on board by nationality: Germany 67, Spain 45, Kazakhstan 3, Mexico 3, Argentina 2, Australia 2, Colombia 2, Croatia 2, Japan 2, Morocco 2, Belgium 1, Denmark 1, Israel 1, Netherlands 1, Turkey 1, United Kingdom Several (unconfirmed), Unknown 15, Total 150

The French national civil aviation enquiries bureau, Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA), has opened an investigation into the crash, joined by its German counterpart, the Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Investigation (BFU). On 24 March, the BEA sent seven investigators to the crash site, accompanied by representatives from Airbus and CFM International.

The cockpit voice recorder was recovered by rescue workers and is being examined by the investigation team. The recorder was damaged in the crash, but was said to be still in a "usable" condition. The search for the flight data recorder was to be a priority when the recovery operation resumed.

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The French Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve remarked that due to the "violence of the impact" there was "little hope" that any survivors would be found, while French President François Hollande called the crash a tragedy. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he had dispatched Interior Minister Cazeneuve to the scene and set-up a ministerial crisis cell to co-ordinate the incident.

King Felipe VI of Spain, in Paris for a state visit to France at the time of the crash, announced his decision to cut his visit short and return to Spain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she would travel to the crash site together with Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia Hannelore Kraft. Merkel said the incident had plunged Germany, France, and Spain into "deep mourning". German President Joachim Gauck, speaking from Peru, stated he was in deep shock at the horrifying crash. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier flew over the crash site on 24 March, describing it as "a picture of horror".

Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr announced plans to visit the site of the crash, and called the day of the accident a "dark day for Lufthansa". Both Lufthansa and Germanwings, along with other Lufthansa subsidiaries, changed their on-line logos to black and white in a show of compassion for the victims and their families.

Germanwings reported occasional flight disruptions within its route network due to crew members deciding not to operate aircraft following the accident. The management spokesperson of Germanwings, Thomas Winkelmann said "We understand their decision". As a result some flights had to be cancelled.

On 25 March, Germanwings retired the flight number 4U9525, changing it to 4U9441. The outbound flight number was also changed, from 4U9524 to 4U9440. The flight numbers for the later Düsseldorf to Barcelona flight were unchanged.