A Germanwings Airbus A320 carrying 144 passengers and six crew has crashed in a remote part of the French Alps.
Flight tracking data showed flight 4U 9525 took off from Bacelona El Prat Airport bound for Dusseldorf at 0955 local time on Tuesday and had reached a cruising attitude of 38,000 feet before the aircraft entered a rapid descent.
The Aviation Herald website said the aircraft, D-AIPX, descended from 38,000 feet to about 6,000 feet in an eight-minute period before radar contact was lost at 1053 local time.
News reports said air traffic controllers issued a mayday call when they lost contact with the aircraft.
Search and rescue teams have arrived at the scene of the crash, located in steep terrain between Digne and Barcelonnette, and have retrieved one of the flight recorders. There were not expected to be any survivors.
Images from the location of the accident, illustrated by this Youtube video, show debris has been spread across a large area.
“Everything is pulverised,” president of the general council of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence Gilbert Sauvan told The Associated Press.
“The largest pieces of debris are the size of a small car.”
Among those on board were 67 Germans, including 16 school children, and 45 Spanish nationals. Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed on Wednesday two Australians were also on the flight.
Germanwings is a low-cost carrier and a wholly-owned subsidiary of German flag carrier Lufthansa. It operates mainly short-haul flights around Europe and to the Middle East.
D-AIPX was delivered to Lufthansa in 1991. It was transferred to Germanwings in 2003 and had its most recent maintenance check on March 23 2015.
“Everyone at Germanwings and Lufthansa is deeply shocked and saddened by these events,” Lufthansa said in a statement on its website.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the passengers and crew members.”
Representatives from the French BEA, the French authority responsible for investigating aviation accidents, as well as its counterparts in Germany and technical advisers from Airbus and engine manufacturer CFM International were at the accident site.
Airbus said D-AIPX, MSN147, had accumulated about 58,300 flight hours and 46,700 flights and was powered by CFM56-5A1 engines.
“In line with ICAO annex 13, an Airbus go-team of technical advisors will be dispatched to provide full assistance to French BEA in charge of the investigation,” Airbus said in a statement on its website.
“Airbus will make further factual information available as soon as the details have been confirmed and cleared by the authorities for release.”