PARIS (AFP, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - An Airbus A320 crash in southern France may have claimed the lives of all 150 people on board, in what would be the worst air accident on French soil in decades.
Flight 9525 operated by Germanwings, the low-cost subsidiary of Deutsche Lufthansa AG, went down in the Digne region about an hour north of Marseille on its voyage from Barcelona to Dusseldorf in Germany, according to German air- traffic control authorities.
Wreckage has been sighted, and and the government has called a crisis meeting. French President Francois Hollande said there are unlikely to be any survivors.
"This is a tragedy that has happened on French soil," Mr Hollande said in Paris. "We need to show all support in the face of this drama."
The crash is likely to be the most fatal in at least three decades in France. The A320 single-aisle jet is Airbus's most popular model, and is an industry workhorse used on shorter distances.
The planes are generally operated with about 150 passengers or slightly more in low-cost variants.
German air-traffic authorities said the plane went down around 10:37 a.m. local time. Spain's Deputy prime minister has said that 45 of the passengers were Spanish.
Germanwings operates Deutsche Lufthansa's European routes outside of the German carrier's main Frankfurt and Munich hubs. The move was designed for Lufthansa to better compete against budget carriers in Europe as Germanwings produces at lower costs than the company's main airline.
The plane went down in rugged terrain, according to Mr Hollande, who is coordinating a crisis response with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The actual crash site is at a higher altitude in the Le Vernet, near Prads-Haute-Bleone.
Firemen and rescue teams are reaching the site now, authorities said.
The site is about 58 miles northwest of Nice and 25 miles west of the Italian border, in a rugged region of Provence that's popular with hikers and campers in the summer.
Airbus said it's focusing "all efforts" on assessing the situation, and that it's been informed about an accident that involves one of the Toulouse, France-based products.
Germanwings plans to hold a press conference at about 3 pm in Germany (10 pm Singapore time) to provide an update.
"As soon as definite information is available, we shall inform the media immediately," the airline said.
Its managing director Oliver Wagner said on Tuesday his company could not give any reasons for the crash yet but would do everything it could to find out what happened. "Our deep sympathy goes out to the relatives and friends of the victims," Mr Wagner said.
A Lufthansa spokesman said the airline did not have any information of the crash and said it could not confirm that an incident had occurred.
But, its Chief Executive Carsten Spohr said it would be a "dark day" for the German flagship airline if fears of a deadly crash were confirmed, according to Lufthansa's Twitter feed.
"We do not yet know what has happened to flight 4U 9525. My deepest sympathy goes to the families and friends of our passengers and crew," Lufthansa said on Twitter, citing Mr Spohr. "If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa. We hope to find survivors," it said.
Airbus said on Tuesday it was aware of media reports about the crash and that it would provide further information as soon as it was available.
"We are aware of the media reports," Airbus said on Twitter."All efforts are now going towards assessing the situation. We will provide further information as soon as available."
"There are no survivors", said the French transport minister. "A distress call was registered at 10:47. The distress signal showed the plane was at 5,000 feet in an abnormal situation," said Alain Vidalies, minister of state for transport, adding that the crash happened shortly after the distress signal.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the causes of the crash were not yet known.
"We of course don't know the reasons for the crash," Mr Valls told reporters. "We obviously fear that the 142 to 150 passengers and crew died today, given the conditions of this crash."
Mr Valls said he had activated the ministerial crisis cell to help coordinate the aftermath of the crash. He added that he had sent Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to the site of the incident.
The crashed A320 is 24 years old and has been with the parent Lufthansa group since 1991, according to online database airfleets.net.
France's BEA accident investigation agency said on Tuesday that it was sending a team of people to investigate the site the crash in southern France.
"We can confirm the accident and we are putting in place a team to head to the site," a BEA spokesman said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed shock at the crash, her spokesman said. She also spoke to Mr Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy by telephone and "cancelled her appointments to follow developments", the spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement.
German air safety experts are on their way to the crash site, while the German Transport Minister will also travel there soon, the German ministry said.