More carmakers caught in headlights of VW engine-rigging scandal

More carmakers caught in headlights of VW engine-rigging scandal
Volkswagen has admitted it installed illegal software into 11 million 2.0 liter and 3.0 liter diesel engines worldwide (AFP Photo/Josh Edelson)

Volkswagen emissions scandal

Iran's 'catastrophic mistake': Speculation, pressure, then admission

Iran's 'catastrophic mistake': Speculation, pressure, then admission
Analsyts say it is irresponsible to link the crash of a Ukraine International Airline Boeing 737-800 to the 737 MAX accidents (AFP Photo/INA FASSBENDER)

Missing MH370 likely to have disintegrated mid-flight: experts

Missing MH370 likely to have disintegrated mid-flight: experts
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 commercial jet.

QZ8501 (AirAsia)

Leaders see horror of French Alps crash as probe gathers pace

"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy, Recalibration Lectures, God / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) - (Text version)

… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

MH17 investigators launch appeal for witnesses, release BUK footage, March 30, 2015

Dutch investigators looking into the MH17plane disaster on July 17, 2014 on Monday launched an appeal for help in tracing witnesses to a possible BUK missile attack on the plane. 

The appeal includes video footage showing a BUK missile system being moved through eastern Ukraine on a low loader Volvo truck on July 17 and 18 and parts of secretly recorded phone conversations, the public prosecution department, which is coordinating the investigation, said.

‘We are looking for witnesses who have seen BUK crew members or have more information about the identity of those involved in ordering and launching the BUK,’ the statement said. People who are concerned about their safety will be offered ‘various protective measures.’ 

Tapped phone conversations indicate pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine had set up BUK anti-aircraft missiles prior to the MH17 plane crash and that the rebels withdrew in the wake of the crash, first to rebel-held parts of Ukraine and then to Russia, the department said. 

The phone conversations, recorded by the Ukrainian secret service SBU, have been released in order to encourage witnesses to come forward. 

Total mess

‘Yesterday was a total mess. I have nothing to say about it,’ one separatist was recorded as saying the day after MH17 was shot down, killing all 298 people on board. 

Two of the conversations mention the weapons system by name and discuss where it is to be placed. 

The appeal for witnesses does not mean the department has concluded a missile attack is the only likely cause of the crash and is just one of number of scenarios being looked at, the department statement said.

Related Article:

Monday, March 30, 2015

Alps crash captain shouted 'open the damn door'

Yahoo – AFP, Kate Millar, 29 March 2015

Police vans block the view as Japanese victims pay their respects on 
March 29, 2015 near a commemorative headstone in Seyne-les-Alpes, the 
closest accessible area to where a Germanwings flight crashed in the
French Alps (AFP Photo/Jean-Pierre Clatot)

Berlin (AFP) - The captain of a passenger jet that investigators believe was deliberately crashed into the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard, shouted at the co-pilot to "open the damn door" as he desperately tried to get back into the locked cockpit, a German newspaper reported Sunday.

Forensic teams meanwhile announced that they had isolated 78 distinct DNA strands from body parts at the mountain crash site with investigators describing the difficulty of the search as "unprecedented" due to the arduous terrain.

French officials say the plane's black box voice recorder indicates that Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked the captain out of the cockpit of the Germanwings jet and steered Flight 4U 9525 into a mountainside.

Machines work to make a path up to 
the crash site on March 29, 2015 in 
Seyne-les-Alpes (AFP Photo/
Jean-Pierre Clatot)
They believe that the more senior pilot, identified by Germany's Bild newspaper as Patrick S., tried desperately to reopen the door during the Barcelona to Duesseldorf flight's eight-minute descent after he left to use the toilet.

The mass-circulation paper's Sunday edition reported that data from the cockpit recorder showed the captain shouted: "For God's sake, open the door", as passengers' screams could be heard in the background.

It said "loud metallic blows" against the cockpit door could then be heard, before another warning alarm went off and then the pilot is heard to scream to a silent Lubitz in the cockpit "open the damn door".

Investigators in the Alps said the violence of the impact and the remote location was severely hampering the search for both body parts and the second "black box".

"We haven't found a single body intact," said Patrick Touron, deputy director of the police's criminal research institute.

"We have slopes of 40 to 60 degrees, falling rocks, and ground that tends to crumble," said Touron. "Some things have to be done by abseiling."

As investigators seek to build up a picture of Lubitz and any possible motives, media reports have emerged that he suffered from eye problems, adding to earlier reports he was severely depressed.

Forensic experts of the French
 gendarmerie disaster victim identification
 unit (UGIVC) work under a tent near
 the site of the crash of a Germanwings
 Airbus A320 in which all 150 people on
 board were killed (AFP Photo/F.Balamo)
German prosecutors believe Lubitz hid an illness from his airline but have not specified the ailment, and said he had apparently been written off sick on the day the Airbus crashed.

'Sight problem'

The Sunday edition of Germany's Bild tabloid and the New York Times, which cited two officials with knowledge of the investigation, said Lubitz had sought treatment for problems with his sight.

It is thought to be a retinal detachment, the German weekly said.

It also reported that Lubitz's girlfriend with whom he lived in the western city of Duesseldorf was believed to be pregnant.

It gave no sources but said the teacher, who taught maths and English, had told pupils a few weeks ago she was expecting a baby.

Bild's Saturday edition had published an interview with a flight attendant who it said had had a relationship last year with Lubitz and recalled him saying: "One day I'm going to do something that will change the whole system, and everyone will know my name and remember."

Picture released on March 27, 2015 shows
 the co-pilot of Germanwings flight 4U9525 
Andreas Lubitz (AFP Photo/Foto 
Team Mueller)
If Lubitz did deliberately crash the plane, it was "because he understood that because of his health problems, his big dream of a job at Lufthansa, of a job as captain and as a long-haul pilot was practically impossible", the woman told Bild.

German prosecutors revealed Friday that searches of Lubitz's homes netted "medical documents that suggest an existing illness and appropriate medical treatment", including "torn-up and current sick leave notes, among them one covering the day of the crash".

Police have found a number "of medicines for the treatment of psychological illness" during a search at his Duesseldorf home, Welt am Sonntag newspaper said.

It added that the Germanwings co-pilot was suffering from being overstressed and was severely depressive, according to personal notes found.

Search for second black box

French police investigator Jean-Pierre Michel told AFP Saturday that Lubitz's personality was a "serious lead" in the inquiry but not the only one.

The investigation has so far not turned up a "particular element" in the co-pilot's life which could explain his alleged action, he said.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr has said that Lubitz had suspended his pilot training, which began in 2008, "for a certain period", before restarting and qualifying for the Airbus A320 in 2013.

The second-in-command had passed all psychological tests required for training, Spohr told reporters.

Rescuers stand as relatives of Japanese victims pay their respects to crash
 victims, on March 29, 2015 near a commemorative headstone in
Seyne-les-Alpes (AFP Photo/Jean-Pierre Clatot)

Germany is to hold a national memorial ceremony on April 17 for the victims of the disaster, half of whom were German, with Spain accounting for at least 50 and the remainder composed of more than a dozen other nationalities.

France's Investigation and Analysis Bureau (BEA), tasked with investigating civil aviation accidents, meanwhile said it was "dismayed" by the revelations in the German press which it said smacked of "voyeurism".

Related Article:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

US and Russian astronauts successfully dock at International Space Station

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying a US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts has successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS). The scientists' stay on board the ISS will be the longest ever.

Deutsche Welle, 28 March 2015

According to Russian space agency officials, the trio successfully docked the Soyuz-TMA16M spacecraft at 01:33 a.m. (UTC) on Saturday after setting off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 7:42 p.m. (UTC) on Friday.

US astronaut Scott Kelly, 51, and 54-year-old Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will spend 342 days on board the 400-kilometer high (250-mile) orbiting outpost.

Longest stay

Kelly and Kornienko, both of whom have flown multiple missions to orbit and have each previously spent about six months on the ISS, will be the first people to spend almost an entire year there.

Second Russian cosmonaut, Gennady Padalka, will return to Earth after six months, however.

The trip will mark the longest amount of time that two people will live continuously on the ISS. During the 1990s, however, four Russian cosmonauts spent between 12 and 14 months aboard the Russian space station Mir.

Mission to Mars

The aim of the time spent onboard the ISS is to enable scientists to gain a wider understanding of the effects on the human body of living in microgravity for longer time periods.

Kelly's twin brother Mark is also taking part in the experiment. The retired US astronaut, who previously flew to the ISS four times, will undergo regular health checks on Earth so doctors can compare the brothers' vital signs.

Space tourism

Speaking ahead of Friday's launch, Kelly said the experiment could prove vital in planning future international missions, including to Mars.

"If we ever go beyond Low Earth orbit again, perhaps to Mars, because of the cost and the complexity it will most likely be an international mission, so I see this as a stepping stone to that."

The US astronaut also said he thought the international partnership was "one of the great success stories of the International Space Station."

In September, the newly-arrived crew will also have a visit from the first space tourist since 2009, British soprano Sarah Brightman. The Phantom of the Opera star who has be training at Star City near Moscow since January is set to sing a new song in space, written by her former husband and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

ksb/bk (dpa, AFP)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Germanwings crash co-pilot hid illness from airline

Yahoo – AFP, Celine Jankowiak with Deborah Cole in Berlin, 27 March 2015

French gendarmes and investigators sift through the scattered debris on March 26, 
2015 at the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus A320 in the French Alps above
the southeastern town of Seyne (AFP Photo/Anne-Christine Poujoulat)

The black box voice recorder indicates that Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked his captain out of the cockpit on Tuesday and deliberately flew Flight 4U 9525 into a mountainside, French officials say, in what appears to have been a case of suicide and mass murder.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that "everything is pointing towards an act that we can't describe: criminal, crazy, suicidal".

German prosecutors revealed that searches of Lubitz's homes netted "medical documents that suggest an existing illness and appropriate medical treatment", including "torn-up and current sick leave notes, among them one covering the day of the crash".

A police officer pictured outside the apartment 
of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot of the crashed
 Germanwings plane, in Duesseldorf, western
 Germany, on March 26, 2015 (AFP Photo/
Federico Gambarini)
They did not specify the illness.

But Bild daily earlier reported that Lubitz sought psychiatric help for "a bout of serious depression" in 2009 and was still getting assistance from doctors, quoting documents from Germany's air transport regulator.

The paper also cited security sources as saying that Lubitz and his girlfriend were having a "serious crisis in their relationship" that left him distraught.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said that Lubitz had suspended his pilot training, which began in 2008, "for a certain period", before restarting and qualifying for the Airbus A320 in 2013.

According to Bild, those setbacks were linked to "depression and anxiety attacks".

Lubitz lived with his parents in his small home town of Montabaur in the Rhineland and kept an apartment in Duesseldorf, the city where his doomed plane was bound.

Duesseldorf prosecutors said the evidence found in the two homes "backs up the suspicion" that Lubitz "hid his illness from his employer and his colleagues".

They said they had not found a suicide note, confession or anything pointing to a "political or religious" motive but added it would take "several days" to evaluate the rest of what was collected.

Reiner Kemmler, a psychologist who specialises in training pilots, noted that people "know that depression can compromise their airworthiness and they can hide it".

"If someone dissimulates, ie they don't want other people to notice, it's very, very difficult," Kemmler told Deutschlandfunk public radio.

Desperate captain used 'axe'

Lubitz locked himself into the cockpit when the captain went out to use the toilet, then refused his colleague's increasingly desperate attempts to get him to reopen the door, French prosecutor Brice Robin said.

According to Bild, the captain even tried using an axe to break through the armoured door as the plane was sent into its fatal descent by Lubitz.

This could not be immediately confirmed, but a spokesman for Germanwings told Bild that an axe was standard emergency equipment on board the aircraft.

A policeman stands next to a police car in
 front of a house in Duesseldorf, western 
Germany, on March 26, 2015, during the
 investigation into the Germanwings 
plane crash over the French Alps 
(AFP Photo/David Young)
The tragedy has already prompted a shake-up of safety rules, with several airlines announcing a new policy requiring there always be two people in the cockpit.

German aviation industry body BDL and the transport ministry agreed to the rule for Lufthansa, its subsidiary Germanwings and other companies, while the European Aviation Security Agency threw its weight behind the policy.

Meanwhile, the UN world aviation body stressed that all pilots must have regular mental and physical check-ups.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the findings that Lubitz appeared intent on crashing the plane added an "absolutely unimaginable dimension" to the tragedy, in which most victims were German and Spanish nationals.

In the northwestern town of Haltern, which lost 16 students and two teachers who were returning from a school exchange, the revelations prompted shock and rage.

The principal of the stricken school, Ulrich Wessel, said "what makes all of us so angry (is) that a suicide can lead to the deaths of 149 other people".

German President Joachim Gauck, a Protestant pastor, attended a memorial service in Haltern Friday and also extended special condolences to the families of the victims in Spain and other countries.

Meanwhile in Montabaur, Mayor Edmund Schaaf urged reporters encamped in the community to show restraint with Lubitz's parents, a banker and a church organist, who live in a handsome home on a leafy, normally quiet street.

"Regardless of whether the accusations against the co-pilot are true, we sympathise with his family and ask the media to be considerate," he said.

A French gendarmerie helicopter winches up an investigator on March 26, 2015 near
scattered debris on the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus A320 in the French
Alps above the southeastern town of Seyne (AFP Photo/Anne-Christine Poujoulat)

Descent button

Investigators say Lubitz's intention was clear because he operated a button sending the plane into a plunge.

For the next eight minutes, Lubitz was apparently calm and breathing normally.

"He does not say a single word. Total silence," Robin said.

The second-in-command had all psychological tests required for training, Lufthansa's Spohr told reporters Thursday, insisting: "He was 100-percent airworthy."

Recovery operations at the crash site were ongoing, with French officials trying to find body parts and evidence. A second black box, which records flight data, has not yet been recovered.

"There's not much plane debris left. There's mainly a lot of body parts to pick up. The operation could last another two weeks," said police spokesman Xavier Vialenc.

Related Articles:

Russian air controllers charged for Polish presidential jet disaster

Yahoo – AFP, 27 March 2015

The Polish government Tupolev Tu-154 went down in thick fog while approaching
 Smolensk airport in western Russia killing 96, including then president Lech
Kaczynski, his wife, the central bank head and military chief of staff among
others (AFP Photo/Natalia Kolesnikova)

Warsaw (AFP) - Pilot error was to blame for the 2010 crash of a Polish presidential jet in Russia, but two Russian air traffic controllers also triggered the disaster that killed Poland's then head of state, prosecutors in Warsaw said Friday.

The aircraft went down in thick fog while approaching Smolensk airport in western Russia killing 96, including then president Lech Kaczynski, his wife, the central bank head and military chief of staff among others.

One of the Russian controllers charged with "being directly responsible for having endangered air traffic... while the other is charged with unintentionally causing an air traffic disaster," Warsaw's chief military prosecutor Ireneusz Szelag told reporters.

He said Poland would take steps to bring the two unnamed Russian citizens to justice, but declined to provide any further details.

The prosecutor presented a minute-by-minute expert analysis of the events leading up to the crash, regarded as Poland's worst peacetime disaster.

Russia has so far refused to hand over the plane's wreckage to Polish authorities, insisting its investigation into the disaster is ongoing.

Warsaw has extended its investigation until October 10.

Many high-profile Poles died when the Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154 airliner went down in thick fog April 10, 2010, while approaching Smolensk airport in western Russia.

The delegation was en route to memorial ceremonies in Katyn for thousands of Polish army officers slain by the Soviet secret police in 1940, a massacre the Kremlin denied until 1990.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pilot locked out of cockpit before mystery French Alps crash

Yahoo – AFP, Marc Burleigh and Delphine Touitou in Paris, 26 March 2015

A French Gendarmeri helicopter flies over an air base in Seyne-les-Alpes on 
March 26, 2015 as the search operation following the Germanwings plane crash
resumes (AFP Photo/Boris Horvat)

Seyne-les-Alpes (France) (AFP) - One of the pilots on the doomed Germanwings flight was locked out of the cockpit shortly before the plane crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard, a source told AFP, raising new questions for investigators trying to make sense of the tragedy.

The news came as families and friends of victims began arriving in France to travel to the remote mountainous crash site area, where locals have opened their doors in a show of solidarity with the grieving relatives.

Cockpit recordings from one of the plane's black boxes indicated that a seat was pushed back, then the door opened and closed. Later, knocking is heard, said the source close to the probe, adding "there was no more conversation from that point until the crash".

Buses carrying family members of the 
victims of the Germanwings plane crash
 are escorted by police in Marignane on
 March 26, 2015 before heading to the
 area of the crash in the Alps (AFP 
Photo/Franck Pennant)
The source, who asked not to be identified, said an alarm indicating proximity to the ground could be heard before the moment of impact.

All 150 people on board flight 4U 9525, including two babies and 16 German school exchange pupils, died when the Airbus A320 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf smashed into the mountains after an eight-minute descent.

There was no distress signal from the plane and the crew failed to respond to ground control's desperate attempts to make contact.

The cockpit recording showed the pilots speaking normally in German at the start of the flight, the source said, adding that it could not be determined if it was the captain or the first officer who left the cockpit. A second black box, which records flight data, has not yet been recovered.

The New York Times cited a senior military official involved in the investigation as saying the cockpit black box recording indicated one pilot tried unsuccessfully to bash his way back in to the cockpit.

"The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer," the investigator told the newspaper. "And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer."

He continued: "You can hear he is trying to smash the door down."

'Unconscious or dead'

Germanwings told AFP: "Only a pilot inside the cockpit can unlock the door."

Employees of the German airline Lufthansa
 and subsidiary Germanwings mourn the 
victims of the Germanwings plane crash 
at Duesseldorf airport on March 26, 
2015 (AFP Photo/Patrik Stollarz)
But its spokesperson refused to either confirm or deny "for security reasons" whether there was any way to open the door from outside, perhaps with an access code.

They confirmed the existence of a video surveillance system that allows the pilot to see who is trying to enter the cockpit.

Germanwings' parent company Lufthansa said the co-pilot had been working for them since September 2013 and had 630 hours of flight experience. The pilot had more than 10 years experience and 6,000 hours flying time.

However, neither pilot has been identified yet.

Authorities say the plane was flying right until the moment of impact and that there was no mid-air explosion.

The French interior minister has said that terrorism is not considered likely. However, aviation experts say the mystery remains wide open.

"If the pilots did not stop the airplane from flying into the mountains, it is because they were unconscious or dead, or they had decided to die, or they were forced to die," one expert told AFP.

Debris from the Germanwings Airbus A320
is seen strewn over the crash site in the
 French Alps above the southeastern
 town of Seyne-les-Alps (AFP Photo)
Earlier, Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr called the incident "inexplicable".

"The plane was in perfect condition and the two pilots were experienced," he said.

The prosecutor for the southern city of Marseille, who is leading the judicial enquiry, was due to brief reporters at 12:30 pm (1130 GMT).

Grieving families gather

Meanwhile, two planes arrived in southern France on Thursday from Barcelona and Duesseldorf with families and friends of victims.

They were due to meet the prosecutor before heading by bus to the hamlet close to the crash site.

Tents were set up for them to give DNA samples to start the process of identifying the bodies of loved ones, at least 51 of whom were Spaniards and at least 72 Germans.

The remains of victims, found scattered across the scree-covered slopes, were being taken by helicopter to nearby Seyne-les-Alpes, a source close to the investigation told AFP.

A mountain guide who got near the crash site said he was unable to make out recognisable body parts.

A member of the French Red Cross waits
 to greet the families of victims of the 
Germanwings Airbus A320 at a support 
centre set up in Digne-les-Bains on March
25, 2015 (AFP Photo/Pascal Guyot)
"It's incredible. An Airbus is enormous. When you arrive and there's nothing there... it's very shocking," said the guide, who did not wish to be identified.

The crash site, which is situated at about 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) altitude, is accessible only by helicopter or an arduous hike on foot.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew over the site to see the devastation for themselves Wednesday. Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also visited a crisis centre near the scene.

It was the deadliest air crash on the French mainland since 1974 when a Turkish Airlines plane crashed, killing 346 people.

Lufthansa said the aircraft was carrying citizens of 18 countries. Three Americans and three Britons were confirmed among the victims.

Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Holland, Israel, Japan, Mexico and Morocco also had nationals on board, according to officials.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Leaders see horror of French Alps crash as probe gathers pace

Yahoo - AFP, Daniel Ortelli and Marc Burleigh, 25 March 2015

French President Francois Hollande (3rd left), German Chancellor Angela 
Merkel (centre) and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (2nd right) arrive 
at Seyne-les-Alpes on March 25, 2015, near the site where a German airliner
crashed in the French Alps (AFP Photo/Jeff Pachoud)

Seyne-les-Alpes (France) (AFP) - The leaders of France, Germany and Spain visited a makeshift rescue base near the Germanwings air crash site Wednesday, as investigators ramped up their probe into the mysterious disaster that killed 150.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew over the crash site to see the devastation for themselves before meeting rescue workers outside the crisis centre set up on Tuesday after the worst crash in France in four decades.

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also visited the centre to be briefed on the gruelling rescue operation in difficult mountain terrain where Flight 4U9525 crashed early Tuesday, scattering debris over a wide area.

France's investigators have recovered
 the cockpit voice recorder from the 
doomed Germanwings flight but say it
 was badly damaged in the crash (AFP
Buffeted by strong mountain winds, the ashen-faced leaders spent several minutes inspecting a line-up of blue-uniformed rescue workers, chatting intently with the help of interpreters.

"My deepest sympathies with the families and all my thanks for the friendship of the people of this region and in France," wrote Merkel in a book of condolence.

Hollande wrote: "Tribute to the victims. Support to the families."

Grieving families were also gathering near the crash site, where a counselling unit has been established.

Meanwhile, investigators were combing through the pulverised wreckage and examining its badly damaged black box for clues as to what caused the mysterious crash.

Hundreds of firefighters and police were involved in the massive task at the rugged crash site, accessible only by helicopter or an arduous hike on foot.

And in Paris, experts analysed one of the plane's black boxes, hoping to discover why the Airbus A320 went down in good weather -- an "inexplicable" disaster according to Lufthansa, the budget airline's parent company.

Photos issued by the BEA air crash investigation office showed the mangled orange "black box", its metal casing torn and twisted by the violence of the impact.

Officials warned it would take several days to analyse the "very badly damaged" cockpit voice recorder, but hoped it might offer initial clues to the mystery later Wednesday.

'Horrendous' scene

A woman reads a book of condolence for 
the victims of the Germanwings plane crash
 at the Berliner Dom cathedral on March 25,
2015 (AFP Photo/Tobias Schwarz)
A second black box, recording technical flight data, has yet to be found.

Authorities are scrambling to explain why the plane suddenly began a fatal eight-minute descent shortly after reaching cruising altitude on its route between Barcelona and Duesseldorf.

No distress signal was sent and the crew failed to respond to desperate attempts at contact from ground control.

"It is inexplicable," Lufthansa chief Carsten Spohr said in Frankfurt.

"The plane was in perfect condition and the two pilots were experienced."

Officials in Spain said at least 49 Spaniards had been killed in the accident, and Germanwings said at least 72 Germans were dead.

French police set up road blocks near the crash site, ordering all non-official vehicles to turn around, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Just beyond lay a steep and broken landscape littered with the shattered pieces of what was Flight 4U9525.

"It's a zone that is very difficult to access, very slippery. There was rain and snow overnight. So we need to secure the zone before the investigators begin their work," a spokesman for the French interior ministry, Pierre-Henry Brandet, told reporters.

"We are not in a race against time," he said. "We need to move forward methodically."

The plane was "totally destroyed," a local member of parliament who flew over the site said, describing the scene as "horrendous."

A helicopter flies over the crash site 
of the Germanwings Airbus A320 in the 
French Alps (AFP Photo/Francis Pellier)
"The biggest body parts we identified are no bigger than a briefcase," one investigator said.

'Darkest day'

More than 300 policemen and 380 firefighters have been assigned the grisly task of searching the site.

The plane was carrying six crew and 144 passengers, including 16 German teenagers returning home from a school trip.

Their high school in the small German town of Haltern was to hold a memorial event Wednesday to honour the victims.

"This is certainly the darkest day in the history of our city," said a tearful Bodo Klimpel, the town's mayor. "It is the worst thing you can imagine."

"Yesterday we were many, today we are alone," read a hand-painted sign at the school, decorated with 16 crosses -- one for each of the victims, most of whom were around 15 years old.

Opera singers Oleg Bryjak, 54, and Maria Radner, 33, were also on board, flying to their home city of Duesseldorf. Radner was travelling with her husband and baby, one of two infants on board the plane.

Condolence messages for the victims 
of the Germanwings plane crash are laid at 
a memorial at Duesseldorf airport in western
 Germany, on March 25, 2015 (AFP Photo/
Federico Gambarini)
In Spain, meanwhile, a minute's silence was observed at noon at countless points around the country, including both houses of parliament in Madrid and public offices.

As the probe gathered pace, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said investigators were not focusing on the possibility it was a terrorist attack.

Germanwings, the growing low-cost subsidiary of the prestigious Lufthansa carrier, had an unblemished safety record.

Weather did not appear to be a factor in the crash, with conditions calm at the time, French weather officials said.

It was the deadliest air crash on the French mainland since 1974 when a Turkish Airlines plane crashed, killing 346 people.

Victims were also confirmed from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Britain, Colombia, Denmark, Holland, Israel, Japan, Mexico and the United States, according to officials.