1,400 mourners join memorial for Germanwings crash victims

17th April 2015, Comments 0 comments

Grieving relatives joined political and religious leaders Friday for a sombre German state memorial service for the victims of last month's Germanwings crash in the French Alps, blamed on a depressed co-pilot.

Flags flew at half-mast nationwide for the 150 dead during the ecumenical service at Cologne's historic cathedral attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck along with officials from France and Spain.

A white flag emblazoned with a black cross hung outside the cathedral, while in front of the altar 150 candles were lit, one for each of those killed.

The service at northern Europe's largest Gothic church was also broadcast live on screens outside the cathedral and to viewers nationwide as Germany observed a day of mourning.

The archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, and the head of the Protestant Church of Westphalia, Annette Kurschus, led the service.

"So many tears have been shed in the last weeks," Kurschus told those assembled.

"It is good when we can weep with each other, and for each other."

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who had been diagnosed as suicidal in the past, is believed to have intentionally flown the plane into the mountainside after locking the pilot out of the cockpit.

He was receiving treatment from neurologists and psychiatrists who had signed him off sick from work a number of times, including the day of the crash.

Aviation industry doctors have since demanded that German pilots undergo more extensive medical checks, while several airlines worldwide have changed rules to require two crew in cockpits at all times.

Lufthansa chief Carsten Spohr, a former pilot, attended the ceremony with three executives of its low-cost subsidiary Germanwings.

Spohr, who is grappling with a heavy blow to the airline's image, asked Lufthansa pilots in attendance not to wear their uniforms to the ceremony out of respect for the victims.

- '150 victims' -

Mourners left flowers and lit candles on the stairways leading to the cathedral, and outside the city's main railway station nearby.

A bouquet of a dozen white tulips placed in front of the towering cathedral had a card bearing the message, "Depression is incalculable," referring to Lubitz's illness.

Ursula Mund, 53, said Germans were still "baffled" by the senseless tragedy.

"We are still saddened and I feel very moved today," she said.

Michael Senker, 62, said the country shared in the relatives' suffering.

"We all feel touched by this horrible catastrophe," he said.

Ahead of the ceremony, Woelki urged compassion for all the dead, including Lubitz.

"There are 150 victims," he insisted.

The Germanwings Airbus 320 was en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf when it crashed in the French Alps on March 24, killing everyone aboard, including 72 Germans and 50 Spaniards.

Germany was especially devastated by the loss of 16 students and two teachers from a high school in the small town of Haltern as they returned from a class trip to Spain.

Business executive Peter Eiglmeier said he had driven to Cologne from the northern city of Hamburg to take part in the public show of sympathy.

"I lost two children myself a few years ago. My thoughts go out to the parents of those kids on the plane," the 57-year-old told AFP, fighting back tears.

Loved ones of victims previously attended a memorial event near the disaster site, at the village of Le Vernet in the French Alps.

On April 13, the foreign ministers of Germany, Spain and France also paid tribute to the victims at Barcelona airport, where the passengers embarked.

Cologne Cathedral was constructed over more than six centuries between 1248 and 1880. Despite several hits, it survived Allied bombing that levelled much of Cologne in World War II. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.

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© 2015 AFP

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