France:European leaders arrive in French Alps after air crash

The leaders of France, Germany and Spain have arrived in a mountainside French village close to where a German airliner crashed, killing all 150 people on board.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew by military helicopter into Seyne Les Alpes on Wednesday, to oversee the recovery effort and investigation. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrived separately.

Hollande and Merkel flew over the crash site to see the devastation for themselves before meeting rescue
workers outside the crisis centre set up after the worst crash in France in four decades.

The visit comes as French authorities announced that they have recovered the black box cockpit voice recorder from the Germanwings passenger plane that crashed on Tuesday.

Two photos showed the voice recorder badly damaged, but investigators said it could still provide crucial last-minute information on how the plane crashed.

The Airbus A320, operated by Germanwings, a budget subsidiary of Lufthansa, was less than an hour from landing in Dusseldorf on a flight from Barcelona when it unexpectedly went into a rapid descent.

More than 300 policemen and 380 firefighters have been mobilised to recover the wreckage and bodies from the area that can only be reached by helicopter or by foot.

“It’s a very grim task, and the area is very difficult to reach,” Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Seyne Les Alpes, said.

Five investigators spent the night at the crash site.

It would take “at least a week” to search the remote site, Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Marc Menichini said, and “at least several days” to repatriate the bodies.

Video images from a government helicopter showed a desolate, snow-flecked landscape, with steep ravines covered in scree. Debris was strewn across the mountainside.

The 144 passengers were mainly German and Spanish. At least three of victims were from the UK, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.

Iranian news sites also reported that at least two Iranian journalists were also on board the plane.

It was the first fatal accident in the history of Germanwings, and the deadliest on the French mainland since 1974 when a Turkish Airlines jet crashed, killing 346 people.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies