A Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf has crashed in the French Alps.
Flight 4U 9525, an Airbus A320 carrying 144 passengers and six crew members, crashed at approximately 1200 GMT near Prads-Haute-Bléone.
French president Francois Hollande said early indications pointed to there being no survivors. In a televised address he said it was unclear whether residential homes or areas have been affected by the accident too.
According to real-time flight tracking service Flightradar24, flight 4U 9525 initially climbed to 38,000 feet before it started to descend (at around 3,000 to 4,000 feet per minute) and lost signal at 6,800 feet.
Dr Rob Thompson, a meteorologist at Reading University, told Sky News: ‘The weather conditions in the area of southern France where the crash is reported to have occurred look like nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year. Wind speeds on the ground showed breezy conditions, although this does not indicate the conditions higher up in the atmosphere.
“Available satellite imagery shows there were not any significant storm systems locally. Data from lightning detectors show the nearest electrical storms were occurring in Sardinia, some 186 miles off the south coast of France, which would be much too far away to cause any issues to air traffic.”
Philippa Oldham, head of transport at IMechE said: “Early data suggests that the Germanwings flight 4U 9525 disaster could be the result of a combination of mechanical failure and pilot error.
“While we don’t know exactly what happened, we can potentially rule out sudden decompression as the plane made a relatively controlled descent.
“This could suggest that the pilot was struggling to control the pitch of the aircraft, due to a servo actuator or hydraulic failure, and was therefore unable to achieve sufficient altitude to clear the mountains. Servo actuators provide pilots with feedback or error-correction signals, which help control the aircrafts position and speed. However, we will need to wait for the flight data recorder to confirm this.
“It’s vital that the findings of the Accident Investigation Branch into this accident are used to help prevent this type of disaster happening again.
“One of the major improvements we could make to flight safety would be the introduction of real-time information being sent from the aircraft to the ground, which would mean we would never ‘lose’ an aircraft in the future. The current commercial aircraft monitoring system revolves around land-based radar as well as a secondary radar on the plane which sends out a signal pinpointing its location, but this can be shut down in the cockpit.
“Introducing the wide-scale use of satellite technology to air travel would allow us to continuously track all aircraft and monitor any potential issues, but we would need an international agreement to ensure all commercial aircraft use it.”
Airbus say the aircraft – MSN (Manufacturer Serial Number) 147 – was delivered to Germanwings’ parent company Lufthansa in 1991.
Operating with CFM 56-5A1 engines, the aircraft had accumulated approximately 58,300 flight hours during 46,700 flights.
In line with ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) annex 13, a team of Airbus technical advisors will be dispatched to provide full assistance to the French BEA (Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses), which is in charge of the investigation.
The A320 is a twin-engine single aisle aircraft seating 150 passengers in a standard two classes configuration. The first A320 entered service in March 1988. By the end of February 2015 nearly 6,200 A320 Family aircraft were in operation worldwide. To date, the entire fleet has accumulated some 150 million-flight hours in over 85 million flights.