WATCH - First images of plane crash scene released
One of the black box flight recorders from the doomed Airbus A320 plummeted to ground in the French Alps today have been found, while French investigators have released raw video footage of the plane's wreckage.
Two babies and a class of 16 schoolchildren returning from an exchange trip were among the 150 victims when the plane came down in the French Alps went into an eight-minute descent before crashing.
All 150 people on board are thought to have been killed when the Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed near Digne on a flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf today.
The discovery of the black box flight recorder is a breakthrough for crash investigators, with the finding confirmed by the French interior ministry in these Twitter messages:
Germanwings chief executive Thomas Winkelmann said the aircraft began descending again shortly after it reached its cruising height, having taken off from Barcelona at about 10am local time.
This descent lasted eight minutes, he told reporters in Cologne. Radar and air traffic control contact broke off at 10.53am.
Germanwings said it was thought that 63 of the passengers on board were Germans, while reports from Spain suggest that around 45 Spaniards may have been on the flight.
A German official has confirmed that a high school group returning from an exchange trip in Spain was on board the plane.
The school they had visited, about 45 minutes from Barcelona, told reporters that 16 students from the town of Haltern in Germany had been on a week-long exchange that ended today.
North Rhine-Westphalia state education minister Sylvia Loerhmann said: "We know that the school group boarded the plane."
Local police said they are still waiting on official confirmation the students had been killed, but have already sent staff to the school to assist students and teachers. The school has refused to comment.
A spokesman for the French Civil Aviation authority said the plane did not send out a distress signal.
Eric Heraud said the plane lost radio contact at 10.30am on Tuesday, but "never declared a distress alert itself".
He said it was the combination of loss of radio contract with control and the plane's descent which prompted the control service to declare a distress.
German chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and French president Francois Hollande have all expressed their sorrow.
Meanwhile, French authorities have released these images of the crash site, which confirms the plane wreckage is scattered over a vast radius.