Teams work to recover plane victims

Published: Saturday 28th March 2015 by The News Editor

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The sombre mission to recover the remains of 150 people killed when a Germanwings plane slammed full speed into a mountain in the French Alps continued today.

Helicopters are in operation from 8:30am until 6pm, while the light is good, to ferry the crews into the ravine where the wreckage is spread. It is too steep to land, so the 40 crew members are winched down singly or in pairs with packs bulging with clear plastic bags, red and yellow evidence tags, and the ropes they will use to keep each other from slipping when the black Alpine stone crumbles beneath their feet.

Each investigator is linked to a local mountaineer, familiar with the terrain and with the skills to keep them safe.

Few pieces are larger than a car door. Most are smaller. And with each step the recovery workers make, crucial pieces of evidence slide inexorably downward. Some slip into a mountain brook fed by the snow that has only just begun melting in the French Alps.

“We have not found a single body intact,” said Colonel Patrick Touron, one of France’s leading forensic investigators. “DNA will be the determining element that will lead to identification.”

Between 400 and 600 biological elements have been retrieved and five scientists are in Seyne-les-Alpes to speed the process, he said. The families who arrived during the week provided objects such as toothbrushes, which belonged to the victims, and some gave their own DNA samples to help cross-reference the forensic information found in the remains.

Mr Touron noted the bodies would be returned to the families as soon as possible, but warned the process would be long.

The ground is bare where the A320 crashed but “the pieces of wreckage are so small and shiny they appear like patches of snow on the mountainside,” said Pierre-Henry Brandet, the Interior Ministry spokesman, after first flying over the debris field.

French investigators have not outlined what will happen with the recovered plane pieces, though the focus of the investigation is no longer on technical issues with the plane now that prosecutors say the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, deliberately crashed the plane.

The plane’s first black box, containing the cockpit recordings, was recovered within hours of the crash. Pulled from the battered orange casing, the audio files revealed almost unimaginable horror – the plane’s co-pilot locked his commander out of the cockpit and set the aircraft on a descent straight into the mountain, said Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin.

Somewhere on the mountain is the plane’s second black box. It contains nearly 25 hours’ worth of information on the position and condition of almost every major part in a plane. Recovery crews know this – and the recovery of the bodies – is their priority.

“At this very moment, men are on site to keep looking, keep looking more,” French President Francois Hollande said. “They will continue until they get it.”

A member of a gliding club in the French Alps said Lubitz frequented the area as a child with his parents.

Francis Kefer, a member of the club in the town of Sisteron, said on i-Tele television that the Lubitz family and other members of the gliding club in his home town of Montabaur, Germany, came to the region regularly between 1996 and 2003.

The crash site is about 40 miles away from the Sisteron glider airfield.

A special Mass is being held today in the nearby town of Dignes-les-Bains to honour the victims.

German prosecutors are trying to determine why Lubitz crashed the plane.

Published: Saturday 28th March 2015 by The News Editor

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