A cockpit voice recorder found in the wreckage of Tuesday's downed Germanwings plane has produced "usable" data, French investigators say. Lufthansa is providing special flights to the crash region for victims' families.
French investigators successfully extracted recordings from the cockpit voice recorder of Germanwings flight 4U9525, but have warned it could take weeks or months for full results.
"We have just succeeded in extracting usable data from the cockpit voice recorder," said Remi Jouty, the head of France's air crash investigation agency BEA.
Jouty said he had "not the slightest explanation" at this stage for the crash - but said the plane was still flying when it smashed into the mountainside near Seyne-les-Alpes, in France, and did not explode mid-air.
The cockpit voice recorder found on Tuesday afternoon, hours after the plane crashed en route from Barcelona to Düsseldorf. The plane was carrying 150 passengers and came down in a steep descent minutes after reaching its cruising altitude, just after 11 a.m. (1000 UTC) on Tuesday. All passengers aboard the plane were killed.
Pictures of the black box - which is orange - showed its metal casing mangled and twisted from the collision. Jouty's information came shortly after French President Francois Hollande announced the casing of the second black box had been found - one that records technical flight data - but not the device itself.
Hollande, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, met earlier in the day with rescue workers and volunteers in Seyne-les-Alpes. The three gathered for a press conference, expressing their grief, gratitude, and determination to uncover what happened to the Airbus A320.
"Every light will be cast on the circumstances of this tragedy," Hollande told the gathering. He thanked workers for their efforts in retrieving bodies and debris from the hard-to-reach site.
Merkel thanked Hollande "on behalf of the millions of Germans" who she said appreciated what was being done, adding it was a "lived example" of the ongoing German-French friendship.
Lufthansa puts on flights for relatives
Germanwings' parent company, Lufthansa, has been in crisis mode for more than a day, as the world's media descend on Seyne-les-Alpes - which is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the crash site. The airline's CEO, Carsten Spohr, announced flights from Spain and Germany to transport the victims' relatives to the French Alps. Those flights are due to begin on Thursday.
Spohr said it was "incomprehensible" to him and the airline that the aircraft - which had a clean maintenance check two days ago and was being piloted by two Lufthansa-trained pilots - could go down in the manner in which it did.
"We know we can never make up this loss. This accident has caused terrible pain," Spohr said on Wednesday evening.
The airline and various governments are still working to confirm the nationalities of those on board. Most of the victims were from Germany and Spain - but the flight manifest is also believed to comprise citizens of Argentina, Australia, Britain, Colombia, Denmark, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Mexico, Turkey, the US and Venezuela. Just after midday, Germanwings spokesman Thomas Winkelmann said the victims included 72 Germans and 35 Spaniards.
German and French officials have said terrorism was not likely to be behind the crash. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said there was no evidence of foul play.
He told reporters in Berlin "according to the latest information there is no hard evidence that the crash was intentionally brought about by third parties."
'Nothing will be the way it was'
Earlier in the day, students of the high school that lost 16 pupils and two teachers in the crash gathered to mourn. The group, from the western town of Haltern am See - just north of Düsseldorf - had been returning home after completing a week-long exchange in Spain.
"Nothing will be the way it was at our school anymore," said Ulrich Wessel, the principal of the Joseph-König school, in a moving press conference.
"I was asked yesterday how many students there are at the high school in Haltern, and I said 1,283 without thinking - then had to say afterward, unfortunately, 16 fewer since yesterday. And I find that so terrible."