MIAMI — An Airbus A320 operating Germanwings (4U) flight 9525 from Barcelona (BCN) to Dusseldorf (DUS) disappeared from radars just before 11 am local time while overflying near Prads-Haute-Bléone region in southeastern France with 144 passengers (including two infants) and 6 crew on board. Passenger manifest include a  “high number of Spaniards, Germans and Turks,” according to Spain’s King Felipe VI. The Germanwings CEO said that it’s believed that 67 people of those on the plane, were German citizens.

Shortly after reaching its cruise level of 38,000ft (11,580m), the aircraft initiated a steady descent over 8 minutes until crash. Despite initial reports of a distress radio call, French Air Traffic Control authorities reported that there had been no emergency calls. According to website, Marseille controllers declared Mayday for the troubled flight when it was below its safe altitude. Weather was calm in the area at the time of the crash, as reported by French weather reports.

FlightRadar 24 indicates the airframe was D-AIPX, an A320-200. The aircraft was first delivered in February 1991 to Lufthansa (LH), and then it was transferred from Lufthansa to Germanwings in January 2014. Since, it has accumulated approximately 58,300 flight hours over 46,700 flights. The aircraft had undergone a C check in Summer 2013, prior to transferring to Lufthansa.

In a press release, Airbus says “In line with ICAO annex 13, an Airbus go-team of technical advisors will be dispatched to provide full assistance to French BEA in charge of the investigation.”

France Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve reported that debris were found in a remote area at an altitude of around 6,500ft (1980m), while President François Hollande said that “There are not thought to be any survivors”. He also added that the site of the crash is in a “very difficult area to access” and hence rescue work could be delayed. However, ABC News reports the French Interior Minister has announced the Black Box has been recovered from the site.

This is the first major accident of Germanwings, a low-cost affiliate of German airline Lufthansa. The crash is also the first fatal crash involving a Lufthansa plane since 1993. In an announcement published at its website, the airline stated that “We must confirm to our deepest regret that Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Düsseldorf has suffered an accident over the French Alps. The flight was being operated with an Airbus A320 aircraft, and was carrying 144 passengers and six crew members. (…)  Everyone at Germanwings and Lufthansa is deeply shocked and saddened by these events. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the passengers and crew members”.

Germanwings established a telephone hotline. The toll-free 0800 11 33 55 77 number is available for familly members in Germany.

An initial taskforce comprised by approximately 210 people is working on the area of the accident, to be complemented by another team of 350 people. Air Search and Rescue operations have been led by helicopters, deployed to help determining the exact location of the crash. However, government officials informed that the recovery efforts will be difficult, as weather conditions may deteriorate and special gear may be required to reach the zone.

The Germanwings crash puts to an end to a lengthy period of unprecedented air safety in Western Europe commercial aviation. The last accident in France occurred fourteen years ago, when Air France 4590, operated by a Concorde, crashed moments after takeoff from Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). All 113 aboard and 4 on the ground lost their lives. Flight 9525 is the deadliest crash on French territory since the crash of flight 1308 of Inex-Adria in Corsica, which killed 180. The deadliest crash ever in France occurred in 1974, when a Turkish Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 crashed outside Paris, leaving a death toll of 346. Jon Ostrower, of the Wall Street Journal, reported “The last major air disaster in Western Europe was a Spanair (JK) McDonnell Douglas MD-82 crash on takeoff at Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) in August 2008. An investigation found that the flight crew failed to extend the flaps before beginning its takeoff, depriving the jet’s wings of the required lift. The accident killed 148 passengers and six crew, and injured 18 more onboard.”