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Jet Crashes In French Alps, 150 Feared Dead


Police and aviation officials said the Airbus A320 operated by Lufthansa's Germanwings budget airline was en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf when it crashed. (file photo)

French officials say they have found a black box flight recorder from the German passenger jet that crashed in the French Alps on a flight from Spain to Germany.

The Airbus A320 carrying 144 passengers and 6 crew members was operated by Lufthansa's Germanwings budget airline and was en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf when it crashed on March 24.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the black box would soon be handed to investigators.

It is not yet known what caused the crash.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said a helicopter has managed to land near the crash site, but found no survivors.

A local council official, Gilbert Sauvan, said the largest debris is the size of a car.

President Francois Hollande said earlier that, "The conditions of the accident, which have not yet been clarified, lead us to think there are no survivors."

He said there was likely to have been a significant number of Germans on the plane, which crashed "in a zone that is particularly hard to access."

Lufthansa said: "If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day" for the company.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said they were "shocked" by the crash.

"The crash of the German plane with more than 140 people on board is a shock, which has plunged Germany, France, and Spain into mourning," she said.

Spanish King Felipe VI cut short his first state visit to France following the accident.

Rajoy and Merkel are to travel on March 25 near the crash site.

Merkel said her foreign and transport ministers were also heading to the area.

Germanwings said it believes 67 German nationals were on its flight.

Sixteen German schoolchildren aged about 15 were said to be among the victims.

French Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said the plane was not old and that weather conditions were not "particularly bad" at the time of the crash.

According to online database, the A320 that crashed was 24 years old and had been with the Lufthansa group since 1991.

Germanwings said its aircraft came down in the mountains after an eight-minute descent from its cruising height.

Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the plane crashed in a mountainous area at an altitude of about 2,000 meters.

Brandet told BFM television that he expected "an extremely long and extremely difficult" search and rescue operation because of the area's remoteness.

A statement from the French prime minister's office said the plane crashed near Meolans-Revel, a remote and sparsely inhabited district in the foothills of the French Alps.

An official at the mayor's office in Meolans-Revel told RFE/RL the plane went down in an isolated mountain area still covered by snow.

The crash was likely to be the deadliest in Europe since a Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine in July, killing all 298 people onboard.

Not including Russia and other former Soviet republics, the last major air disaster in Europe occurred in August 2008, when a Spanair plane veered off a runway during takeoff at Madrid's Barajas airport, killing 154 people.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Claire Bigg, Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa
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