Speculation has continued to grow about the Germanwings plane crash that killed 150 people, as a clear explanation for the chilling loss remains elusive.
A black box on the Germanwings Airbus A320 has been recovered from the scene where the plane crashed on Tuesday, but it has reportedly been damaged, raising fears it will not provide a full picture of what happened.
Europe has been left shocked by the haunting detail that the plane descended for eight minutes, without making a distress call, before it hit the ground.
This photo provided by the French Air Accident Investigation Agency shows the damaged black box voice data recorder of the Germanwings jetliner that crashed Tuesday in the French Alps
The plane began its horrific descent just four minutes after reaching its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, according to reports.
HuffPost Germany journalists Susanne Klaiber and Jan David Sutthoff wrote that the sudden descent, without any communication with the outside world or any obvious weather issues, suggested "that the pilots had to contend with unusual problems that gave them no time to communicate with air traffic control".
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"We cannot say at the moment why our colleague went into the descent, and so quickly, and without previously consulting air traffic control," said Germanwings' director of flight operations, Stefan-Kenan Scheib.
Without an explanation as to what happened, the media have focussed on emerging details about a previous fault with the plane.
The crash scene
The day before the crash, the plane had a technical problem with a nose landing gear door, though a Lufthansa spokesman said this was only a noise problem and was not believed to have caused the crash.
He also said a few Germanwings crews asked not to fly after the crash "for personal reasons".
The landing gear door was repaired on Monday but the fault "would not be something relevant to flight safety,” the New York Times reported.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a black box had been found and "will be immediately investigated." He said it "must be reconstituted in the coming hours in order to be usable" but did not say when it could be possible to actually retrieve any information.
A total of 67 of those killed are believed to be German, including 16 students and and two teachers from the same school.
Young girls stand in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium secondary school in Haltern am See, after it was confirmed teachers and students from the school were on board the downed plane
The recovered black box device is believed to be the cockpit voice recorder rather than the flight data recorder.
Both devices - actually orange boxes designed to survive extreme heat and pressure - can provide investigators with a second-by-second timeline of the plane’s flight.
The voice recorder takes audio feeds from four microphones within the cockpit and records all the conversations between the pilots, air traffic controllers as well as any noises heard in the cockpit.
The flight data recorder captures 25 hours’ worth of information on the position and condition of almost every major part in a plane.
So far, the only explanation that has been definitively ruled out is terrorism, with the US National Security Council saying there was nothing to suggest this.
Lufthansa Vice President Heike Birlenbach told reporters that for now "we say it is an accident".
The debris from the plane is strewn across the remote and isolated mountains and the inaccessibility of the location has hampered the recovery effort.
“The site is a picture of horror. The grief of the families and friends is immeasurable,” Frank Walter-Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, said after flying over it. “We must now stand together. We are united in our grief.”