French rescuers resumed the search on Wednesday for the remains of the 150 people, including 16 school children, killed when a Germanwings Airbus slammed into the side of a nearly inaccessible mountain in the Alps.
Helicopters took off from a nearby improvised base, heading for the rugged area where flight 4U9525 crashed Tuesday, spreading debris and body parts of the mostly German and Spanish victims over a wide area.
Officials are hunting for clues to why the plane, operated by German flag carrier Lufthansa’s budget subsidiary, entered a fatal eight-minute descent on its route between Barcelona and Duesseldorf.
No distress signal was sent and the crew failed to respond to desperate attempts at contact from ground control.
The cockpit voice recorder recovered from the wreckage has been found damaged and has been taken to Paris for analysis, a source close to the inquiry said today.
“The black box that was found is the CVR,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity. The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) “was damaged. It has been transferred to Paris this morning.”
A second so-called black box, in this case recording flight data, has yet to be found.
Video images from a government helicopter yesterday showed a desolate snow-flecked moonscape, with steep ravines covered in scree. Debris was strewn across the mountainside, pieces of twisted metal smashed into tiny bits.
Debris was believed to be scattered over four acres of remote and inaccessible mountainous terrain, hampering rescue efforts.
The plane was “totally destroyed”, a local member of parliament who flew over the site said, describing the scene as “horrendous”.
“The biggest body parts we identified are not bigger than a briefcase,” one investigator said.
More than 300 policemen and 380 firefighters have been mobilised for the grisly task of searching the site.
Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Marc Menichini said a squad of 30 mountain rescue police would resume attempts to reach the crash site by helicopter at dawn today, while a further 65 police were seeking access on foot.
Five investigators had spent the night camped at the site.
It would take “at least a week” to search the remote site, he said.
“Ground access is horrible.... 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.
Family members of the dead were to arrive today at the rescuers’ logistics base in a village near the crash site.
French President Francois Hollande, his German counterpart Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy were also expected to arrive in the area around 2:00 pm (local time).