France's painstaking and risky recovery operation at crash site
Anchored with ropes on perilously steep slopes, the French teams recovering debris and human remains from the site of the German airliner crash in the Alps are carrying out a painstaking and risky task.
"The two objectives today: to recover the human remains and to try to recover the second black box," said on Thursday Captain Olivier Cousin, the head of a police mountain rescue service whose teams are taking part.
The task is grisly. According to accounts given at the airfield in the town of Seyne-les-Alpes from which five police helicopters are flying back and forth to the otherwise inaccessible crash zone, the recovery teams are working in an area of carnage.
The impact of the Airbus A320, owned by Lufthansa budget subsidiary Germanwings, was so violent that the plane and its 150 people on board were "pulverised", spread across nearly two kilometres (a mile) of mountainside.
The debris and body parts are tiny near where the nose of the aircraft hit, and bigger towards the tail, one source at the airfield said.
To ensure the safety of air accident investigators on the slippery slopes, broken with ravines, each is buddied up with an experienced mountaineering officer, and everybody is hooked to ropes attached to hammered-in pitons or deeply-rooted trees.
"The zone is dangerous," Cousin told AFP. He added that the number of personnel on the mountain face was increased on Thursday.
AFP journalists saw around 40 police officers gearing up with climbing harnasses and hats at the airfield before being flown to the site.
Local residents in Le Vernet, the village closest to the crash site, said even they had never ventured to the area.
"It's slippery and super dangerous," said Josephine Balique, a 19-year-old student.
Officials say the recovery operation could take a minimum of two weeks to complete.
The teams are "trying to recover all they can, absolutely everything," said a police commander, Lieutenant Colonel Xavier Vialenc.
Priority is being given to bringing back the plane's flight data recorder -- the second so-called black box, after the early recovery of the first, the cockpit voice recorder.
That voice recorder revealed sounds suggesting one of the pilots had left the cockpit and was locked out, unable to get back in, a source close to the investigation told AFP. Loud noises sounding like the pilot outside was trying to bash through the reinforced door were heard.
- DNA tests -
At the same time, the teams have started bringing back body parts. At least some are believed to be stored in Seyne-les-Alpes, where three refrigerated containers were trucked in on Wednesday.
Relatives of those killed in the crash were flown to France from Germany and Spain on Thursday and were to attend a ceremony at Le Vernet later in the day and go to Seyne-les-Alpes, where psychological counsellors and medical staff were standing by to help them in their grief.
Because of the destruction at the crash site, officials are relying on DNA samples to identify the remains of the passengers and crew.
DNA testing of family members was to start later Thursday, in big white tents set up in front of a communal hall in Seyne-les-Alpes whose access was barred to media and the public.
© 2015 AFP