French recovery teams have called off search operations to find remains from Germanwings Flight 9525 until dawn Wednesday, citing unfavorable conditions at the remote crash site in the French Alps, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Officials said all 150 people on board the Airbus A320 likely were killed in the crash as the airplane was “literally … ripped apart,” said Bruce Robin, a prosecutor in Marseille.
While weather was clear at the time of the crash, a storm system moving into the region later in the day brought rain and snow, Accuweather reported. The plane crashed near Méolans-Revel, France, a remote community near the French-Italian border with fewer than 500 inhabitants at an average elevation around 3,410 feet. A witness to the crash, Pierre Polizzi, told Al Jazeera the plane crashed “high on a mountain,” and the French Interior Ministry said debris was found in the mountains around the 6,500-foot level. The site is inaccessible to vehicles and difficult to reach with helicopters.
The crash has puzzled analysts. The pilot had 10 years of experience and did not send out a distress call as the plane made an uncharacteristic descent just minutes after reaching its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet at 10:30 a.m., local time, which was just about when flight controllers lost radio contact with the plane. The flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany, was only supposed to take 90 minutes. Within 10 minutes of starting its descent over the French Alps, Flight 9525 was at 6,800 feet, and at 10:45 a.m. French flight controllers sent out a distress call after failing to contact the pilots and seeing the plane’s steady descent, Global News reported.
The identities of the six crew and 144 passengers had not been revealed as of 6 p.m. EDT, but authorities said there were German, Turkish and Spanish passengers on board, including a group of 16 German high school students returning from an exchange program in Spain. Forty-five people on board had Spanish surnames, to Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said. Around 67 were believed to be German and there was one Belgian on board, he said. Also among the passengers were German opera singers Maria Radner and Oleg Bryjak. That count leaves the nationalities of 31 passengers unidentified.