France halts search for bodies at Germanwings crash site
MARSEILLE – French investigators have ended their search for bodies in the Alps where a Germanwings passenger jet crashed last month, killing all 150 people on board, a local official said on Saturday.
Prosecutors believe German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately flew the Airbus A320 jet into the mountainside during a flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, pulverizing the aircraft and making recovery efforts extremely complicated.
“The search for bodies is over, but the search for the victims’ personal belongings is continuing,” a spokesman for the local government authority in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region told Reuters.
“Lufthansa has also hired a specialist firm to remove the debris of the aircraft, under the authority of the French public prosecutor and an expert in charge of environmental supervision of the operations,” he said.
Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) is the parent company of the lowcost Germanwings carrier.
The identification of victims will now continue through the analysis of 150 sets of DNA found at site, which could take several weeks. The prosecutor leading the French legal probe has cautioned that the number of DNA sets does not necessarily mean all the victims have been found.
As soon as a DNA set is matched to one of the victims, the family will immediately be informed.
Work to remove aircraft debris and clean up the site will start next week and could take up to two months, said General David Galtier, a regional French police commander in charge of the operation.
Cockpit audio recordings from the first black box, recovered hours after the March 24 crash, led prosecutors to believe that Lubitz locked the captain out of the cockpit and put the plane into a steep descent.
This version of events appeared to be further corroborated by data from the second ‘black box’ recorder that was recovered earlier this week.
A separate German legal inquiry has pointed to mental health problems affecting the 27-year-old Lubitz.
German prosecutors said on Thursday that the co-pilot had made Internet searches on ways to commit suicide in the days ahead of the crash, as well as searches about cockpit doors and safety precautions. According to Der Spiegel magazine on Friday, the prosecutors searched the offices of five doctors whose help Lubitz had sought.
Lufthansa has said Lubitz told its flight school in 2009 he had gone through a period of severe depression. – REUTERS