Investigators have begun the painstaking process of trying to determine why an Airbus A320 carrying 144 passengers and six crew members on a scheduled flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf suddenly started descending over the south of France before crashing in the French Alps.
The French civil aviation authority confirmed there was no distress call from the crew of Germanwings Flight 9525 before the crash this morning, leading to wide-ranging speculation as to what may have caused the Airbus to go down.
French officials said there were no known survivors in the crash. The jetliner began what appeared to be a controlled descent as it crossed over the French coastline in good weather at an altitude of 38,000 feet. Flight 9525 then continued another 85 nautical miles in a straight line, crashing in the foothills of the Alps near the town of Prads-Haute-Bléone.
The airplane was within gliding range of the Marseille Airport on the French Riviera, which has an 11,500-foot runway, when the trouble began, leading many to question whether the pilots may have become incapacitated or were dealing with an emergency that prevented them from turning back toward a suitable landing spot.
According to preliminary radar data, the flight appeared to be proceeding normally until just minutes after reaching its final cruising altitude of FL 380. It was then that Flight 9525 started losing altitude at a fairly constant rate as the ground speed dropped slightly, suggesting the airplane was under control all the way to impact with terrain during the approximately eight-minute descent.
Oliver Wagner, CEO of Germanwings, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, said investigators are en route to the crash scene, which was located by a French search helicopter shortly after the crash at about 11 a.m. local time.
The A320 was delivered to Lufthansa in 1991 and flew for many years with the airline before being transferred to the fleet of Germanwings. It had its last major C check inspection in the summer of 2013, Wagner said.