Officials: Plane carrying 148 people crashes in France

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Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he was shocked by the accident. “A tragedy. We are working with French and German authorities in the investigation,” he said on Twitter.

A Germanwings Airbus A320 plane carrying at least 148 people crashed Tuesday in the foothills of the Alps in southeastern France, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told reporters.

Valls said he fears those aboard the flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany — 142 passengers and six crew members — may be dead.

French President Francois Hollande also said no survivors were expected. The plane crashed near Digne-les-Bains, in the Alpes de Haute Provence region, Valls said.

“The conditions of the accident are not yet clear but lead us to believe there will be no survivors,” Hollande said.

A distress call associated with plane was sent at 10:45 a.m. local time (5:45 a.m. ET), French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told CNN affiliate BFMTV.

Germanwings Flight 9525 had left a Barcelona airport at 10:01 a.m., the airport website said.

The crash happened at about 10:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. ET) in mountainous terrain near the village of Prads-Haute-Bleone, French police Capt. Benoit Zeisser said.

Because of the terrain, it will be a difficult site for rescuers to access, Zeisser said. A police helicopter is in the area, he said.

The sports hall of a local school for students aged 11 to 14 has been freed up to take in bodies of the victims of the plane crash, Sandrine Julien from the town hall of Seyne-les-Alpes village told CNN.

She said there was a lot of helicopter traffic bringing the bodies in. The school remains open. Seyne-les-Alpes is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the crash site on a straight line.

Lufthansa: We hope to find survivors

Germanwings is a low-cost airline owned by the Lufthansa Group. Lufthansa has gradually been transferring many of its short-haul flights to Germanwings, with the exception of flights operated from its Frankfurt and Munich hubs.

Lufthansa said Tuesday on Twitter that “we do not yet know what has happened to flight 4U 9525.”

“If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa. We hope to find survivors,” Lufthansa said on Twitter.

Founded in 2002, Germanwings became a wholly owned Lufthansa subsidiary in 2009.

The twin-engine Airbus A320s, which entered service in 1988, is generally considered among the most reliable aircraft, aviation analyst David Soucie said.

The crash site is closer to Barcelona than Dusseldorf, but well into the flight. Crashes midflight are rare, as most happen near takeoff or landing, CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo said.

Plane dropped 14,000 feet in six minutes, online flight tracker shows

It is too early to know what happened, but Schiavo said there were some clues that rescuers and investigators will look at.

First is the speed of the jet’s descent.

According to an online flight tracker that records altitude, the plane was at 38,000 feet, and six minutes later had dropped to 24,000 feet — a drop of 14,000 feet.

This could indicate that there was not a stall, but that the pilot was still controlling the plane to some extent, Schiavo said.

Had there been an engine stall, the plane would have crashed in a matter of minutes, she said.

That small piece of information about the descent means that the pilot could have been trying to make an emergency landing, or that the plane was gliding with the pilot’s guidance, Schiavo said.

A scenario where the plane was gliding is potentially more dangerous because wide fields for landing would be hard to come by in the mountains, she said.

Mayor: Area of crash site is sparsely populated

The mayor of the French community of Barcelonnette, near the crash site, told CNN affiliate BFMTV that emergency responders had been sent to the crash area. A helicopter has also been deployed to try to locate the precise crash site, he said.

The valley is long and snow-covered, and access is difficult, Barcelonnette Mayor Pierre Martin-Charpenel said. It was well populated in the 19th century but there are almost no people living there now, he said.

It’s an out-of-the-way place with magnificent scenery, he said.

By Laura Smith-Spark and Jason Hanna

CNN’s Mariano Castillo, Laura Akhoun, Stephanie Halasz, Lindsay Isaac and Richard Greene contributed to this report.