The families of the victims of Germanwings flight U9525 that went down in the French Alps last month have gathered for a memorial service in Cologne. All 150 people on board the Airbus A320 were killed in the crash.
Around 500 of the 1,500 guests expected to attend the main memorial service in Cologne's Gothic cathedral are relatives of the passengers and crew members who died when the plane crashed into a mountainside on March 24.
Among them are the relatives of the 16 high school students and their two teachers from the town of Haltern am See, who were on the flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf after taking part in an exchange program in Spain.
Several dignitaries, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Joachim Gauck, as well as members of the Spanish and French cabinets are also attending the memorial service.
Deutsche Welle reporter Kate Brady is observing the memorial service from outside of Cologne Cathedral, where mourners will be able to watch the service on big television screens.
Lufthansa, the parent company of Cologne-based Germanwings, is represented by the German flag carrier's CEO, Carsten Spohr, as well as other executives.
The ecumenical service, which is to be broadcast live on German public television and streamed at DW.de, is to be led by the archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, and the president of the Protestant Church of Westphalia, Annette Kurchus.
Earlier on Friday, Cardinal Woelki spoke of what he said promised to be a daunting task, telling public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that he hoped he would be able to find the right words to offer hope and comfort to those who had lost their loved ones in the crash.
Although the service is being broadcast live, special TV production rules have been agreed to ensure the dignity of the victims' family members are preserved. The area around the cathedral was cordoned off hours before the ceremony to allow the families to arrive without facing television cameras. During the broadcast, the cameras are also to refrain from taking close-ups of grieving relatives.
History of depression
All 144 passengers and six crew members were killed when flight 4U9525 crashed in the French Alps on March 24. Information gleaned from the A320's two black boxes have led investigators to believe that the co-pilot locked the pilot out of the cockpit and deliberately steered the plane into a mountainside. It has since emerged that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had a history of depression and had a doctors' sick note meaning that he should not have been flying on the day of the crash.
pfd/sms (dpa, EPD, AFP)