A320 plane crashes into French alps

People in tears arrive at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, after a Germanwings passenger jet crashed (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

A plane operated by the budget carrier of Germany's Lufthansa has crashed in a remote area of the French Alps killing all 150 on board.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has confirmed two Australians, a mother and her son from Victoria, were among dead.

Here is what we know so far:

  • Germanwings Airbus A320 crashes in southern French Alps

  • 144 passengers and six crew on board — all feared dead

  • Passenger jet had been traveling from Barcelona to Busseldorf

  • Germanwings CEO: plane descended 31,000ft in 8 minutes before crash

  • Debris has been located on the alps at an altitude of about 6,500 ft

  • 16 German high school students believed to be on board

  • Deadliest crash on French soil since 2000

  • Weather was reportedly calm at time of crash

  • Captain had more than 10 years of flight experience and more than 6,000 flight hours

  • French officials say one of the plane's black boxes has been located and recovered

Germanwings said the Airbus A320 plunged for eight minutes into a snowbound inaccessible mountain area in southeastern France, but French officials said no distress signal had been issued.

Flight 4U 9525, carrying 144 mainly Spanish and German passengers and six crew, was travelling from Barcelona to the western German city of Duesseldorf when it came down near the ski resort of Barcelonnette.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a black box has been found with authorities refusing to "rule out any theory" on the cause of the disaster.

Spanish authorities said 16 German teenagers on a school trip were feared to be on board the doomed plane, as tearful relatives converged on the airports in the two cities anxiously seeking information about their loved ones.

The airliner was also carrying two babies. It is not known if any Australians were on board.

It was the first fatal accident in the history of Germanwings, and the deadliest on the French mainland since 1974 when a Turkish Airlines crashed, killing 346 people.

"It is a tragedy, a new airline tragedy, we will determine what caused the crash," French President Francois Hollande said.

Hollande said the dead included Germans, Spaniards and "probably" Turks, while Brussels said at least one of its nationals was on board.

Germanwings won't release details of the passengers on board until all the victims' families have been contacted.

Police at the crash site said it would take days to recover the bodies.

"It is going to take days to recover the victims, then the debris," senior police officer Jean-Paul Bloy told Reuters.

In Paris, France's Prime Minister Prime Minister Manuel Valls told parliament: "A helicopter managed to land (by the crash site) and has confirmed that unfortunately there were no survivors."

A crisis cell has been set up in the area between Barcelonnette and Digne-les-Bains along with an emergency flight control centre to coordinate the operation to the crash site.

Authorities commandeered a large meadow with dozens of helicopters taking off to head to the crash site.

Locals described the difficult terrain that threatened to hamper rescue efforts.

"Ground access is horrible, I know the Estrop massif, it's a very high mountainous area, very steep and it's terrible to get there except from the air during winter," local resident Francoise Pie said.

A witness who was skiing near the crash site told French television he "heard an enormous noise" around the time of the disaster.

Local MP Christophe Castaner, who flew over the crash site, said on Twitter: "Horrendous images in this mountain scenery."

"Nothing is left but debris and bodies. Flying over the crash site with the interior minister -- a horror -- the plane is totally destroyed."

The plane took off for Dusseldorf at 8.55am local time, crashing around two hours after take-off.

According to reports, the Airbus A320 climbed to 38,000ft, started descending, then lost signal at 6,800ft. The crash site is about 150 kilometers from Nice.

A spokesman for Airbus, the European aerospace giant, did not give any information about possible causes but said the company had opened a "crisis cell".

French civil aviation authorities said they lost contact with the plane and declared it was in distress at 10:30am (0930 GMT).

However, the aircraft's crew did not send a distress signal, civil aviation authorities told AFP.

"The crew did not send a Mayday. It was air traffic control that decided to declare the plane was in distress because there was no contact with the crew of the plane," the source said

Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has given his immediate reaction to the crash.

"My heart goes out to the family and friends of those people who appear to have lost their lives in this devastating air crash in the Alps," he said.

The area where the plane went down is near a popular ski resort.

The German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation is sending three people to France to join the investigation, while French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, the country's top security official, is heading to the crash site.

The world's worst air disasters remain the March 27, 1977, collision of two Boeing 747s on the runway at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, killing 583 people, and the August 12, 1985 crash into a mountainside of a Boeing 747 belonging to Japan Airlines, killing 520 people.

News break – March 24

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting