Town mourns school's victims on Germanwings crash anniversary
The German town of Haltern am See observed a minute's silence on Thursday, a year to the day after a Germanwings plane carrying 16 local students and two teachers slammed into a mountainside.
The community in the west of the country sustained the largest single loss from the disaster that claimed the lives of 150 people, including the suicidal co-pilot who deliberately crashed the plane in the French Alps.
Dozens of tearful friends and classmates from the 18 victims' high school gathered on the town's market square, their heads bowed, as church bells tolled at 10:41 am (0941 GMT), the time of the tragedy.
The teenage students, accompanied by their teachers, were returning from a school exchange on the Germanwings flight from Barcelona bound for Duesseldorf on the day of the crash.
"You are not alone with your pain," Chancellor Angela Merkel wrote in a letter to the pupils' parents on the anniversary.
"Many people, including members of the government, are with you in their thoughts."
Haltern mayor Bodo Klimpel told AFP before the anniversary that the tragedy was "of course still very present".
"It is now part of our town history," he said.
Pictures of the victims hang at the entrance of the Josef Koenig high school. There is also a plaque in the school's courtyard, and a room has been set aside where students can sit in silence to remember their friends.
"In the beginning, I did not think I would survive the death of my child," Steffi Assmann told a local newspaper, speaking of her 15-year-old daughter Linda.
She placed a candle at the grave of her daughter with the inscription "365 days without you".
The exchange programme with the Catalonian partner school has continued and a group of students flew there last week and jetted back on a Germanwings flight, school principal Ulrich Wessel said.
The ceremony in Haltern came as some 600 people gathered in the tiny village of Le Vernet in the French Alps near where the Airbus A320 came down, to remember the victims.
© 2016 AFP