Germanwings crash investigators finish search for remains

Forensic teams to conduct DNA identification as Alps recovery process concludes

Just over a week after a Germanwings plane crashed into the French Alps, investigators have finished retrieving human remains from the wreckage.

They must now try to match them with DNA profiles from the 150 people killed - a task which could take months.

The recovery process involved hundreds of people and the construction of a stony road into an Alpine mountainside to help the team bring back anything they found, from a body part to a tiny shred of skin. Not a single intact body was found.

Francois Daoust, head of France’s IRCGN national criminal laboratory, said that as of Monday afternoon the forensic teams on the site and in Paris had isolated 78 distinct DNA profiles from the hundreds of samples recovered thus far - leaving nearly as many unaccounted for.


Meanwhile, they had only received complete DNA profiles for about 60 victims from their relatives.

Based on black box cockpit recordings recovered on the day of the crash, investigators believe the Germanwings co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, locked the captain out of the cockpit and deliberately crashed the plane into the mountain, killing everyone on board.

Lt Col Jean-Marc Menichini, who has been involved in the operation that focused on recovering victims’ remains, said today that “there are no longer any visible remains” at the crash site.

A special unit of mountain troops, with help from German investigators, is now clearing the crash site of what remains - including debris and personal effects.

While the retrieval of DNA from the body parts may be completed as early as this week, Mr Daoust said it would take two to four months to match the samples with the victims’ DNA profiles.

Dental and surgical records, tattoos, DNA from hair or toothbrushes, will all serve to identify and ultimately return the remains to families.

Mr Daoust said all of the families will be informed who has been identified at the same time.

“If I announced an identification as soon as I had it to a family, psychologically it’s an oppression and a pressure on those that don’t yet have an identification,” he said.

Lufthansa CEO

Lufthansa’s chief executive has said it will take “a long, long time” to understand what led to a deadly crash in the Alps last week.

But he refused to say what the airline knew about the mental health of the co-pilot suspected of deliberately destroying the plane.

Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr and the head of its low-cost airline Germanwings, Thomas Winkelmann, were visiting the crash area on Wednesday amid mounting questions about how much the airlines knew about co-pilot Andreas Lubitz's psychological state - and why they have not released more information about it.

The two men lay flowers and then stood silently facing a stone monument to the plane’s 150 victims.

The monument looks toward the mountains where the Germanwings A320 crashed and shattered into thousands of pieces on March 24th and bears a memorial message in German, Spanish, French and English.

Mr Spohr said the airline is “learning more every day” about what might have led to the crash but “it will take a long, long time to understand how this could happen”.

He then deflected questions from reporters at the site in Seyne-les-Alpes, and drove away.

After listening to the plane’s voice data recorder, investigators believe Lubitz intentionally crashed the plane.

Lufthansa acknowledged on Tuesday it knew Lubitz had suffered from an episode of “severe depression” before he finished his flight training at the German airline, but that he passed all his medical checks since.

German prosecutors say Lubitz’s medical records from before he received his pilot’s licence referred to “suicidal tendencies”, but visits to doctors since then showed no record of any suicidal tendencies or aggression against others.

The revelations intensify questions about how much Lufthansa and its insurers will pay in damages in relation to the passengers who died - and about how thoroughly the aviation industry and government regulators screen pilots for psychological problems.

New images of the recovery operation show investigators tugging out large, mangled pieces of the plane: tyres, sections of fuselage with twisted window parts and what looks like a piece of the orange-painted tail.

Questions persisted on Wednesday about reports in German daily newspaper Bild and French magazine Paris Match about a video they said was recorded by a person inside the cabin of the doomed plane shortly before it crashed.

The publications say their reporters were shown the video, which they said was found on a memory chip that could have come from a mobile phone.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, who is overseeing the French criminal investigation into the crash, told the Associated Press that investigators had found no such video.

But in a statement, he left open the possibility that such video had been found but not given to authorities.

“In the hypothesis that someone is in possession of such a video, he or she should submit it immediately to investigators,” he said.