German shock at yesterday's crash was mixed with unhappy memories of another major airline crash in Europe: the August 2000 crash of a chartered Concorde in Paris that claimed 113 lives, mostly German holidaymakers.
"The Mountain of Rubble" is how the online edition of the popular Bild tabloid described the Alpine crash scene yesterday.
The day was an emotional rollercoaster in Germany, with reports that bodies were seen moving at the site later superseded by news that survivors were extremely unlikely.
Among the first victims identified was Oleg Bryjak, a bass baritone at the Deutsche Opera in Düsseldorf. He was on his way to Germany after a performance in Barcelona.
Opera artistic director Christoph Meyer said he was "stunned" at the death of the Wagner singer who had worked in the opera since 1996. "With Oleg Bryjak we have lost a great interpreter and wonderful person."
Germany's president Joachim Gauck cut short a state visit to Peru to return immediately to Germany. "I am heartbroken, like endless numbers of people at home, and I can only imagine how much sadness, anger and suffering the families are feeling."
Social Democrat leader and economics minister Sigmar Gabriel expressed his sympathy in the name of all his party, and said the families “required every assistance”.
In the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the flight was headed and many victims lived, premier Hannelor Kraft said she would visit the crash site today with chancellor
Foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier thanked the French authorities for their rapid response and promised to work closely with his French colleague Laurent Fabius.
Germanwings is the country's most prominent low-cost airline, although it has struggled since it was founded in 2002 to compete with Easyjet and Ryanair. It operates flights from Dublin to Hamburg and Cologne, and operates a fleet of some 80 aircraft, of which two-thirds are Airbus A320s and A319s.
The Lufthansa-owned airline has grown to become the German flag-carrier’s main short-haul operator as it battles competition from no-frills rivals.
It is the first crash in the history of the Cologne-based operator, which also operates flights between European cities to some holiday destinations in North Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Acquired by Lufthansa in 2009, the airline was kept deliberately small for many years so as not to compete with its parent company. But as state-owned Gulf airlines and low-cost rivals including EasyJet, AirBerlin and TUIfly began to poach more of its customers, Germany's biggest airline decided to expand the services of its low-cost carrier and it now carries some 16 million passengers per year.
Despite branding itself as a budget airline, it remains relatively expensive to run. As a result Lufthansa announced plans last July to expand regional airline Eurowings, where costs are 20 per cent below those of Germanwings. The Germanwings brand will therefore be integrated into Eurowings, Lufthansa said this month. – (Additional reporting, Reuters)