An airline has faced questions over whether the crew of the plane that crashed in the French Alps this morning sent a distress signal, after it was revealed the plane lost altitude for eight minutes before crashing.
Officials made contradictory statements in the aftermath of the loss of the Germanwings plane with 150 people on board, which descended 32,000 feet, from a cruising altitude of around 38,000 feet, before crashing in the mountains.
It was initially claimed the pilots had made a call when the plane was “in an abnormal situation”.
Footage from the crash scene
But Germanwings itself later said it is unclear whether the airplane did send a call, telling a press conference: "We have contradictory information about that ourselves, from the air traffic controllers, and we are uncertain as to whether a distress call was issued at all."
The French civil aviation authority later told CNN that the distress message was from air traffic controllers, not the plane, and was made because they had lost radio contact and were alarmed at the speed of descent.
The lack of a distress call leaves the cause of the crash surrounded in mystery, though terrorism has been ruled out. Germanwings said the pilot was a veteran who had flown for Germanwings and its parent airline Lufthansa for more than 10 years.
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Emergency services have arrived at the remote scene and, according to reports from local news site Le Dauphine, one of the black box recorders was found shortly before 4pm GMT.
Over the Alpes de Haute province, the plane would've had to have a cruising altitude of tens of thousands of feet, experts have told HuffPost Germany and one said the plane must have had a "serious technical problem" to descend so quickly from cruising altitude.
The owner of a French Alpine camping ground says he heard a series of loud noises in the air before plane crashed.
"There are often fighter jets flying over, so I thought it sounded just like that. I looked outside but I couldn't see any fighter planes," Pierre Polizzi told The Associated Press.
"The noise I heard was long - like 8 seconds - as if the plane was going more slowly than a military plane speed. There was another long noise about 30 seconds later."
Carsten Spohr, chief executive of Lufthansa which owns Germanwings, said in statement: "We do not yet know what has happened... My deepest sympathy goes to the families and friends of our passengers and crew.
"If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa. We hope to find survivors."
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Spain has confirmed that 45 of the 144 passengers on board were Spanish. There were also two pilots and four crew members aboard.
Germanwings told reporters they believed there were 67 Germans on board the plane. Two babies were also believed to be on board, the company added.
German media are reporting the victims included 16 students and 2 teachers from the same high school in the town of Haltern am See, near Dusseldorf.
The students are believed to have gone to Barcelona on an exchange. A spokesman for the citz said they "had to assume" they were on board after discussing it with the police.
The German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation is sending three people to France to join the investigation, while French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, the country's top security official, is heading to the crash site.
German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the crash as "terrible news" and said a crisis hotline had been set up in the country for those wanting to know more. "Our thoughts are with those who fear their loved ones are among the victims," he said.