Candles, tears as Germany mourns 16 teens killed in air crash

25th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

A sea of lit candles and flowers covered the front steps of a German school that was deep in mourning Wednesday after 16 of its students died in the plane disaster in the French Alps.

Bereaved students wept and hugged each other near the makeshift memorial of candles, some arranged in heart shapes, to share the pain of losing their friends in the icy alpine wasteland on Tuesday.

"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.

The teenagers were among at least 72 Germans who made up nearly half the disaster's total death toll of 150.

The students and their two female teachers had been on a week-long exchange trip near Barcelona, paying a reciprocal visit after Spanish students came in December to the northwestern town of Haltern.

"Life dreams were shattered from one minute to the next," an ashen-faced headmaster Ulrich Wessel, said on television, characterising the faculty and students as one school "family".

He said the students' deaths left "a wound that will heal very slowly and leave deep scars".

Across Germany flags were to fly at half-mast for three days.

Condolence books lay in Haltern's town hall, the Berlin's Protestant Cathedral and at Duesseldorf airport, where the doomed jet had been due to land.

Staff of Lufthansa and its subsidiary Germanwings worldwide observed a minute's silence, many weeping quietly, at 0953 GMT, the moment radio contact broke off with the jet on Tuesday.

- 'Still traumatised' -

At the school, the Joseph Koenig Gymnasium, red-eyed parents and students wept and comforted one another on a day of mourning, as all classes were cancelled and 50 counsellors were on hand to lend emotional support.

"There's no force on Earth strong enough to take away the pain of losing a close family member or friend," said state education minister Sylvia Loehrmann after paying an early-morning visit.

"We can only share it, and from that can come a small measure of consolation."

The town mayor Bodo Klimpel said that "right now it's very, very difficult to imagine when things will return to normal. We are all still traumatised by what happened.

"My son goes to the same school, he's one grade below those who died in yesterday's accident and of course he knows them all," he told news channel NTV.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was set to join the French and Spanish leaders near the crash site later in the day. The dead included six crew and 144 passengers.

President Joachim Gauck was on his way back from Peru after cutting short a South America trip because of the tragedy.

Well-known Germans offered their condolences on social media, among them tennis star Boris Becker and cyclist Jens Voigt.

Google in Germany and Spain marked its front page with a black ribbon.

TV channels continuously broadcast scenes from Haltern, though police kept media and TV crews at a distance from the school.

"An important point for us today is to permit those who feel sorrow to grieve in peace, unmolested by the media," said police spokeswoman Ramona Hoerst.

"We will not prevent journalists from doing their job, but it is important for us to protect the families, relatives of victims and the students who do not wish to speak.

"Today in the school, it is the time to share the sadness together, to speak. There is a lot of sadness today."

© 2015 AFP

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