What went wrong? Investigators still don't know why Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf crashed in the French Alps

Although recordings have been successfully extracted from one of the black boxes, investigators say it is too early to draw conclusions. The bodies of the 150 people on board have not been recovered yet


More than 30 hours after Germanwings plane which had taken off from Barcelona's airport and was on its way to Dusseldorf crashed in the French Alps killing all those 150 people on board a massive rescue operation is underway, investigators are studying one of the black boxes and the site of the crash, dedicated teams of psychologists and volunteers are helping the families of those killed in the accident, and the governments of the countries involved are working around the clock. But, for all the efforts, the situation has not evolved much since yesterday. The list of passengers has not yet been made public, bodies have not been recovered from the crash site and investigators are unable to say the reason why the aircraft made a sudden but steady and allegedly controlled descent until it finally crashed in an inhospitable, difficult to reach slope in the Alps.

Unanswered questions

This wednesday France's president François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have given a joint statement, and the senior officer in charge of the investigation has briefed the media. However, nobody has so far been able to answer the questions in everyone's mind: what happened, and why. Officially all lines of enquiry are open and nothing is ruled out, not even the possibility that this was a terrorist act, even though that is considered unlikely because of the concentration of debris on the ground. The aircraft disintegrated into very small pieces but all have been found in a relatively small area and this would rule out the possibility of an explosion, which would have dispersed the fragments in a much wider area.

The cockpit's recording

With the accident still surrounded by a veil of mystery and uncertainty, only a few facts are clear: there was no mid-air explosion, the engine did not stop, the weather was fine, and the radar followed the aircraft almost until the moment it crashed. The descent lasted about ten minutes and the plane hit the mountains at high speed. Air controllers in Marseille made three calls to the plane, but there was no answer. These are the facts. Paradoxically, it is a lot but is not much and, with so little clues, the contents of the black boxes should be crucial to figure out the cause of the accident. Investigators are now studying the contents of one of the boxes, recovered yesterday and containing the recordings from the cockpit. One of the audio files is usable, according to the French aviation investigation bureau, who has stress that it is too early to draw conclusions. As for the second black box, the one recording the technical details of the flight, it has not been found yet.

Bodies have still not been recovered

Beyond the investigation though, a most gruesome task is taking place in the Alps: that of recovering the bodies of the 150 people on board, 144 passengers and 6 crew members. The fact that this was a flight within the Schengen area means that the company and the governments involved have been slow in giving details of the nationalities of those killed, even to the point of giving contradictory statements. It appears that 67 German nationals were killed in the crash, amongst those 16 teenagers from a school who had spent a week in a small village near Barcelona, part of an exchange with a Catalan school. 51 of the passengers have Spanish passports. The death toll includes nationals from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Morocco and Argentina, amongst other countries. The company has reiterated that the list of passengers will not be made public until thorough checks have been made and all families have been contacted.

The French Alps, ready to host the bereaved

Which leads to the saddest part of this tragic story: the bereaved. Because of the cosmopolitan nature of the passenger's list loved ones are being mourned in many countries. However, most of the victims are from Germany and Catalonia. A minute silence has been observed today in cities and villages throughout different countries, and flags fly at half mast. In Barcelona, families have spent the night in a hotel near the airport, accompanied by teams of psychologists and volunteers. Lufthansa is working to bring to the Alps those willing to make the painful journey. The villages near the crash site, still in shock after a tragedy which has replaced the silence and tranquility of the mountains with the noise from helicopters and cars to move around the hundreds of rescue members and the army of journalists, are getting ready to host the bereaved.