25 Mar 2015

Airbus A320 crashes in France

2:03 pm on 25 March 2015

Investigators hope a black box recovered from the wreckage of a German airliner that crashed in the French Alps will help them learn why the plane descended rapidly within eight minutes.

The Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed on its way from Barcelona to Duesseldorf. All 150 aboard were killed, officials say.

Rescue helicopters near the site of the crash in a remote mountain area.

Rescue helicopters near the site of the crash in a remote mountain area. Photo: AFP

The "black box" flight recorder has been found, France's interior minister said. The cause of the crash is not known and the plane sent no distress signal during its descent.

Among the passengers were 16 German pupils returning from an exchange trip.

The victims also include two opera stars and an Australian mother and son.

Germanwings, a low-cost airline owned by Germany's main carrier Lufthansa, has an excellent safety record. French, Spanish and German leaders have expressed shock.

Police escort family members of an aircrash victim at Barcelona's airport.

Police escort family members of an aircrash victim at Barcelona's airport. Photo: AFP

A helicopter participates in rescue efforts in the southeastern French town of Seyne.

A helicopter participates in rescue efforts in the southeastern French town of Seyne. Photo: AFP

A recovery team reached the site, in a remote mountain ravine, on Tuesday (local time). Their work was called off in the evening and will resume at first light on Wednesday, the French interior ministry said.

Gilbert Sauvan, a local council official, told Les Echos newspaper that the plane had "disintegrated".

"The largest debris is the size of a car," he said.

Officials believe 67 of those aboard the plane were German citizens. Forty-five of the passengers had Spanish names, Spain's deputy prime minister said.

The flight was also carrying citizens of Australia, Turkey, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said it was "sadly likely" that some British nationals were on board.

The plane began descending one minute after reaching its cruising height and continued to lose altitude for eight minutes, Germanwings managing director Thomas Winkelmann told reporters.

He said the aircraft lost contact with French air traffic controllers at 10.53am at an altitude of about 6000 feet.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has no indication at this stage of any New Zealand passport-holders on the plane, but a spokersperon said it was monitoring the situation and seeking further updates from relevant authorities.

-BBC