Germanwings crash: Schools mourn tragic loss

AT the two airports there was little sign of the unfolding tragedy. Departure boards slowly changed, passengers milled, and flights steadily departed.

Hours earlier, Germanwings flight 4U 9525 had been delayed when it departed Barcelona for Dusseldorf at a little after 10am local time. It was carrying 150 passengers. Within an hour all of them were killed when the aircraft crashed into the side of a mountain in the Alps.

Away from the main terminals yesterday afternoon, the families and friends of the passengers on board the flight were coming to terms with their grief. There would be no survivors, they were eventually told by officials from Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings.

In Barcelona's El Prat airport, accompanied by airport officials and police, and holding on to each other for support, the families were taken away from the main terminal where the flight had left, to be briefed on what had happened to the Dusseldorf-bound service.

They were last night staying in local hotels and may today visit the crash site in southern France.

In Dusseldorf airport, where the ill-fated Airbus 320 had been due to land at lunchtime, grieving parents were being shielded from the press in a VIP lounge where they were offered trauma counselling.

Few details have emerged so far about the Spanish victims.

There are said to be 45 of them.

Much of the focus has already turned to the Institut Giola, a school in the village of Llinars del Valles, near Barcelona, that early yesterday morning waved goodbye to 16 German teenage students and two of their teachers who had spent the last week on an annual exchange trip.

Marti Pujol, the mayor of Llinars del Valles told the Reuters news agency that the entire village was in a state of shock.

"The families knew each other. The parents had been to see them off at six this morning," he said. At their intended arrival point there were also tears.

Schoolchildren and parents wept and hugged each other outside the Josef-König school in the German town of Haltern.

The headmaster at the school summoned the parents of the missing pupils and informed them of what had happened.

"It has been an extraordinarily difficult day for us. Everyone is in tears," said the town's mayor, Bodo Klimpel. "We will open the school tomorrow, but it won't be business as usual.

"It's the darkest day in this town's history. We're in a state of shock. It's the worst thing ever imaginable."

"It was a Spanish language exchange programme and they were flying home after having what was probably the most wonderful time of their lives," said Sylvia Löhrmann, the education minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

"It's so tragic, so sad, so unfathomable."

Like many of his classmates Soufjan Ibrhaim, 15, posted a message on his Facebook site. "I am so dead sad," he wrote. "They were all in my year and a good girlfriend of mine was one of them."

Among those killed was opera singer Oleg Bryjak, the Deutsche Oper Am Rhein director Christoph Meyer told Associated Press. He was said to have been returning to Germany from a performance.

"We have lost a great performer and a great person in Oleg Bryjak. We are stunned," said Mr Meyer.

In Barcelona, passengers catching another Germanwings service, to Cologne, were checking-in baggage ahead of their trip yesterday afternoon. Roger Rauw, the Belgian head of group of 54 teachers who had spent a week in Barcelona, said that he had only learnt of the crash from worried family members at home.

"Our families saw what happened on television and were obviously worried, but we are very happy to get the flight back - the whole group is happy to catch the flight."

Asked whether she was still happy to travel, a German tourist, Heike Goettlicher and her husband said that they were confident about catching their Germanwings flight back to Stuttgart.

"This is not a day to be happy, but we have no problems about catching the plane."

Shocked passengers at the airy glass domed Dusseldorf airport stared at the empty arrivals gate where the passengers Barcelona had been due to arrive.

Instead they found it surrounded by news television crews. "This is awful, this sort of thing is not meant to happen to German planes, I feel for the families," said Karen Netthausen, a retired teacher who was returning from holiday in Turkey.

At El Prat international the departure and arrival boards were full again last night.

They included three Germanwings flights that were scheduled to leave Barcelona, behind schedule. There were delays, as there had been in the morning, when flight 4U 9525 departed.

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