Lufthansa chief visits crash area as 'cabin video' emerges

1st April 2015, Comments 0 comments

The heads of Lufthansa and Germanwings paid their respects Wednesday near the spot where one of their planes slammed into the French Alps, following reports that a video has emerged showing the final terrifying seconds in the cabin.

Descriptions of the chilling mobile phone footage in French and German media angered prosecutors probing the March 24 disaster, who called on anyone with video of the accident to hand it over to investigators immediately.

Carsten Spohr and Thomas Winkelmann's visit came at a time of intense scrutiny on Germanwings owner Lufthansa, which has revealed it was aware that the co-pilot suspected of deliberately crashing the airliner, killing all 150 on board, had suffered from severe depression.

Lufthansa said 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz had told the airline in 2009 about his illness after interrupting his flight training.

Lufthansa's Spohr and Germanwings chief Winkelmann arrived at Seyne-les-Alpes near the crash site aboard a helicopter, later making their way to the village of Le Vernet where they laid a wreath at the foot of a memorial erected for the victims.

Spohr then read out a statement to reporters, but refused to answer a torrent of questions.

There are "no words to describe how terrible this accident is," he said, thanking rescue teams and locals for their support in the aftermath of the disaster and promising continued help for the victims' relatives.

The two executives later attended a service in the small German town of Haltern am See to pay their respects to 16 pupils and two teachers from the local school who were among the 150 victims.

- 'Screaming passengers' -

The crash, which caused shock worldwide, continues to make headlines, with French and German media saying they had seen a video purportedly showing the final seconds aboard the doomed airliner, which they said was shot on a mobile phone that somehow survived the crash.

"The scene was so chaotic that it was hard to identify people, but the sounds of the screaming passengers made it perfectly clear that they were aware of what was about to happen to them," said French weekly Paris Match.

People were heard crying "My God" in several languages, the magazine said.

Investigators say the plane's cockpit voice recorder indicated Lubitz locked the flight captain out of the cockpit before deliberately crashing the plane.

Paris Match said "metallic banging" could be heard more than three times -- tallying with reports that the pilot tried to smash down the cockpit door with an axe.

French police poured cold water on the magazine's footage claims, telling CNN the reports were "completely wrong."

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, one of the lead investigators into the crash, added that anyone with footage "must hand it over immediately to investigators".

But the Paris Match journalist who wrote about the footage said he did not own the video, and had merely seen it.

"It's a passenger who films from the back of the plane," Frederic Helbert said.

In Berlin on Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande said authorities hoped to identify the remains of all 150 passengers and crew within a week, though investigators previously said it could take weeks and that some of the victims may never be identified due to the extent of the devastation.

Some 450 relatives have visited the site so far, a local official said Tuesday.

The town of Haltern am See on Wednesday held an emotional service at the central St Sixte Church for the schoolchildren and teachers from the Joseph Koenig Gymnasium who perished in the crash.

Germany lost 72 of its citizens in the disaster -- down from an earlier estimate of 75 -- and the town's school has become a symbolic focal point of the country's national mourning.

Lufthansa said $300 million (280 million euros) had been earmarked to cover the damages, while Germanwings will immediately compensate each family with 50,000 euros -- a sum that will not be deducted from any final compensation deal.

- Blow to Lufthansa's image -

The catastrophe has dealt a heavy blow to the image of Lufthansa, which announced Tuesday it would cancel celebrations next month to mark its 60th anniversary.

German prosecutors have said Lubitz was diagnosed as suicidal "several years ago", before he became a pilot, but had appeared more stable of late.

Doctors had recently found no sign that he intended to hurt himself or others, but he was receiving treatment from neurologists and psychiatrists who had signed him off sick from work a number of times, including on the day of the crash.

Police found torn-up sick notes during a search of his apartment after the crash.

The plane's second black box recorder, which gathered technical data on the flight, has yet to be found.

French investigators said Tuesday they would now concentrate on "the systemic weaknesses" that might have caused the disaster, including the logic of locking cockpit doors from the inside, which was introduced after the September 11, 2001 terrorist hijackings in the United States.

Several airlines and countries around the world have since ruled that two authorised crew members must be present in the cockpit at all times.

© 2015 AFP

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