Germanwings plane crash: What we know

A plane operated by budget carrier Germanwings, carrying 144 passengers and six crew, crashed over the French Alps on Tuesday, killing everyone on board.

Two Australians, Victorian woman Carol Friday, 68, and her son Greig, 29, were among those who died when flight 4U 9525 went down in south-eastern France, about 10:30am local time, while en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf in Germany.

While investigations into the cause of the crash are continuing, here is what we know so far.

The crash site

  • The debris has been found in a rugged area near the town of Le Vernet in the French Alps, about 100 kilometres from the coastal city of Nice

  • Teams scouring the debris have had to be winched down by helicopters, which cannot land due to the terrain

  • Local French MP Christophe Castaner, who flew over the site, said on Twitter: "Horrendous images in this mountain scenery. Nothing is left but debris and bodies. A horror - the plane is totally destroyed."

  • The area saw another air disaster just over 50 years ago in 1953, when an Air France plane to Vietnam crashed near where flight 4U 9525 came down. The plane clipped a mountain and crashed into a rocky crevice just before midnight, killing 42 people on board.

The plane

  • French civil aviation authorities said they lost contact with the plane, an Airbus 320, at 10:30am

  • Transponder data from the plane was last received by flightradar24 at 10:41am, when it was at an altitude of 6,800 feet

  • Over the previous 10 minutes it descended from an altitude of 38,000 feet, according to flightdata24

  • No mayday call was sent. Air traffic control declared the plane was in distress after they could not contact the crew

An aerial view of the crash site. Source: AAP

Officials say the plane was 'obliterated'. Source: AAP

The airline

  • Germanwings is a low-cost airline entirely owned by Germany's Lufthansa, Europe's largest airline

  • Founded in 2002, it has an excellent safety record

  • It was set up as a direct competitor to Ryanair and easyJet and flies to 117 destinations in 31 countries

  • Aircraft are maintained by LufthansaTechnik, a respected maintenance provider

  • The airline's managing director said routine maintenance of the aircraft had been carried out the day

Maria Radner performs during a dress rehearsal for Richard Wagner's opera "Goetterdaemmerung" which is part of the Salzburg Easter Festival in Salzburg, Austria. A Spanish opera house said Tuesday, March 24, 2015 German contralto Maria Radner along with her husband and baby, were among the 150 victims of the Germanwings plane crash in the French Alps. Source: AAP

The passengers

  • Ms Friday and her son were on holiday in Europe, where Mr Friday was about to begin a year teaching English. Their family described them as "extraordinary and exceptional people who were loved by many, who they loved in return".

  • It is believed 72 German and at least 35 Spanish nationals were on board the flight, including two babies

  • At least three British nationals were also on board, Britain's foreign secretary Philip Hammond confirmed. He could not rule out the possibility that there were more involved.

  • Sixteen children and two teachers from the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in the town of Haltern am See, in north-west Germany, were on board

  • The mayor of Llinars de Valles, a town north of Barcelona, said pupils were in shock at a local high school where the 16 had just attended an exchange program

  • Haltern am See mayor Bodo Klimpel called it "the darkest day in the town's history"

  • Two opera singers were also among those killed: bass-baritone Oleg Bryjak, 54, and contralto Maria Radner, 33, were flying home after starring in Richard Wagner's opera "Siegfried" at Barcelona's opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu

  • The theatre said Radner was travelling with her husband and baby

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