Germanwings Plane Crash; Officials Confirm Americans Among Those Dead

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Courtesy CBS News: The flight voice recorder, one of the "black boxes" from Germanwings 9525.

FRANCE(CBS NEWS)– Crews began a second day of searching on an Alpine mountainside where a German jetliner crashed without making a distress call Tuesday, apparently killing all 150 people on board.

Helicopters resumed flights Wednesday over the field of widely scattered debris, as a U.S. official confirmed that two Americans were among those on board Germanwings Flight 9525.

Crews were making their way slowly to the remote crash site through fresh snow and rain, threading their way to the rocky ravine. But CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips says the weather Wednesday was better than expected, bringing hopes that recovery efforts could speed along.

French Interior Ministry spokesman Paul-Henry Brandet said the overnight precipitation made the rocky ravine slippery, increasing the difficulty of reaching the steep area.

Phillips said retrieval of the victims would be the first priority for search crews, and it wasn’t going to be easy. The plane came down in the most inhospitable, inaccessible terrain imaginable.

“Of course there are bodies,” said Frédéric Petitjean, chief doctor at the local fire department, but he added that “identifying them will be hard… You see the state of the plane, so I’ll let you imagine the state of the bodies.”

On Tuesday, the cockpit voice recorder was retrieved from the site. French accident investigation agency BEA confirmed Wednesday morning that it had received the voice recorder at its headquarters and believed it could extract useful data from the device.

Key to the investigation is what happened in the minutes after 10:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday, said Segolene Royal, France’s energy minister. From then, controllers were unable to make contact with the plane.

The two “black boxes” — actually orange boxes designed to survive extreme heat and pressure — should provide investigators with a second-by-second timeline of the plane’s flight.

The voice recorder takes audio feeds from four microphones within the cockpit and records all the conversations between the pilots, air traffic controllers as well as any noises heard in the cockpit.

The flight data recorder, which Cazeneuve said had not been retrieved yet, captures 25 hours’ worth of information on the position and condition of almost every major part in a plane.

Royal and Cazeneuve both emphasized that terrorism was considered unlikely.

In Washington, the White House said American officials were in contact with their French, Spanish and German counterparts. “There is no indication of a nexus to terrorism at this time,” said U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.

Germanwings Flight 9525, from Barcelona, Spain to Duesseldorf, Germany, went into an unexplained eight-minute steep descent that culminated with the crash, but even as it descended, it maintained a relatively normal airspeed, adding to the mystery about what could have happened.

The Airbus A320 was less than an hour from its scheduled landing when it began the descent. France’s aviation authority said the pilots did not send out a distress call and had lost radio contact with their control center.

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