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Reports: Germanwings black box yields puzzling information

Two news outlets have cited sources from the Germanwings crash black box investigation suggesting one pilot had exited the cockpit and could not return. Although unconfirmed, the information only raises more questions.

A second news outlet has cited sources close to the investigation of the crashed Germanwings flight saying one pilot had exited the cockpit before the crash. Lufthansa has said that it cannot confirm reported information from the cockpit voice recorder.

Shortly after the New York Times reported that a source close to the investigation said one pilot of the crashed Airbus A320 was not in the cockpit at the time of the crash, the news agency AFP cited its own source on Thursday that appeared to corroborate the NYT information.

AFP's source said that from the cockpit recording, which was recovered from one of the plane's two black boxes at the crash site, it can be determined that one pilot pushes his seat back, gets up, and exits the cockpit.

A knocking sound is then heard - apparently the pilot trying to get back in.

"There was no more conversation from that point until the crash," the source told AFP.

No distress signal was sent from Germanwings flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, the source said, and attempts by ground control to contact the plane before the crash were unsuccessful. Before impact, the plane's ground proximity alarm sounded.

Up until the pilot left the cockpit, the two pilots could be heard conversing normally in German. It is not clear if the pilot or the co-pilot was the one who had left the cockpit.

An earlier report from the New York Times indicated that when the knocking by the pilot outside the cockpit went unheeded, the pilot began knocking louder and eventually could be heard trying to break down the door. There was no answer from the other pilot at any point.

Lufthansa, which owns the discount airline Germanwings, said on Wednesday "we have no information that can confirm The New York Times report."

On Thursday morning, the German parliament opened with a ceremony in memory of those killed in Tuesday's plane crash. Meanwhile, in Berlin, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere warned against speculation, saying that it was "not helpful" to the victims' families: "I cannot and do not want to comment on this," de Maiziere said.

Investigation ongoing

Remi Jouty, the director of France's BEA aviation agency, did say on Wednesday that "words" had been heard on the

cockpit voice recorder

recovered at the alpine crash site in southern France.

An initial analysis would take "a matter of days," Jouty said. He declined to say whether the Airbus A320's pilots were conscious as the plane made an unscheduled eight-minute descent before crashing into a mountainside, killing all 150 occupants.

Jouty was speaking at a news conference at BEA headquarters outside Paris.

On Wednesday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a terror attack was not the main hypothesis being worked on as forensic teams examined fragments on the rugged crash site.

Carsten Spohr, the chief executive of parent company Lufthansa, who himself is a pilot, said on Wednesday that "we still cannot understand what happened yesterday."

Lufthansa said two charter flights were being made available for family members to get close to the crash site near Seyne-les-Alpes. The locality, which recovery teams are using as a base, was visited by the

leaders of Germany, France and Spain

on Wednesday.

The German news agency DPA quoted a French police spokesman near the crash site as saying that the first human remains were recovered on Wednesday afternoon.

Worldwide grief

Germanwings chief executive Thomas Winkelmann said his company had already contacted most of the families of the victims.

They included 72 German citizens, 35 Spaniards as well as victims from Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Britain, Colombia, Denmark, Iran, Israel, Japan, Mexico, the United States and Venezuela.

Some could have dual nationalities. Spain's government said 51 of its citizens had died in the crash. The town of Sant Cugat, near Barcelona, said three generations of one family had been on board the flight.

Barcelona's Liceu opera house held two minutes of silence at noon Wednesday for Maria Radner and Oleg Bryjak, two German singers who were returning to Düsseldorf.

Residents of Haltern, a rural town 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Düsseldorf, mourned the loss of 16 high-school students and two teachers, who were returning from a week-long exchange visit to Llinar del Vallès, near Barcelona.

mz,ipj/msh (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)

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