As the search for the remains of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 victims resumed on Wednesday, new evidence gathered by investigators revealed a disturbing new timeline of the flight's final descent. According to French transportation officials, the ill-fated Germanwings flight descended for 18 minutes before crashing into the French Alps. It was previously believed that the quick yet steady descent, captured on flight radar, lasted for roughly eight minutes.
The Independent reports that French environment and transport minister Ségolène Royal confirmed to the media that the Germanwings Airbus A320 carrying 144 passengers and six crew members began its descent at 10:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday. The plane didn't make impact with a mountain in the French Alps until after 10:48 a.m., Royal said.
According to live flight tracking system Flightradar24, the Germanwings plane was flying at 38,000 feet at 10:30 a.m. Central Europe Time, when it was at just about 30 minutes into its flight. Around that time, the pilots stopped responding to air traffic control, Royal said.
Although Flightradar24 and other live tracking systems show the plane disappearing from radar at 10:41 a.m. local time, flying at around 6,800 feet, officials now believe the plane continued to descend until 10:48 a.m., striking the mountain shortly after. That means an 18-minute-long descent, with the plane going from 38,000 feet to less than 2,000 feet. During this time, officials say the pilots made no distress call, contrary to initial reports that claimed the pilots said, "Emergency. Emergency."
Although the Germanwings plane glided for another eight minutes after it lost its radar signal, Flightradar24 said the wreckage is not far from where it last captured the plane's flight path.
According to witnesses at the scene, the plane was completely destroyed upon impact, scattering small pieces of debris across a swath of the French Alps between the small communes of Digne-Les-Bains and Barcelonnette. After he saw the crash site on Tuesday, Gilbert Sauvan, president of the general council of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, told the Associated Press that "everything is pulverized."
One of the plane's two black boxes was pulled from the wreckage on Tuesday. The recovered black box — the cockpit voice recorder — was severely damaged, but can still be used to obtain information, French officials said.
Investigators at France's aviation safety bureau have already received the cockpit voice recorder. The bureau released a photo of the damaged recorder on Wednesday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be traveling to the southern French Alps on Wednesday, where she will meet French President Francois Hollande, The Guardian reports. Families of the victims, a majority of whom were German nationals, will also begin arriving at the make-shift search site in southern France.
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