The first bodies from the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps have been repatriated to Germany. Relatives accompanied a funeral procession carrying the bodies of teenage victims from Düsseldorf airport.
A funeral cortege for 15 of the 16 high school children who were victims of the crash made its way from Düsseldorf airport to the town of Haltern on Wednesday.
The somber procession of black and white hearses was accompanies by a police motorcade as it made its way to the town.
Parents and relatives were able to view the coffins laid out at the airport before accompanying the convoy on its journey some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north.
Funeral candles and white roses were laid out in front of the Joseph König Gymnasium - the high school attended by the students - ahead of a drive-past by the cortege.
"This entire event is a tragedy, especially for the parents, but we, too, lost our students and colleagues," said school principal Ulrich Wessel, who accompanied the families to the airport. "It's especially difficult for the students of grade 10," Wessel said. "There used to be 150 students. Now they are only 134 ... Many lost their best friends."
Two teachers who accompanied the children on a trip to Spain were also killed in the crash. The first burials are set to take place on Friday.
On Tuesday, a flight operated by Lufthansa carried the remains of 44 Germans from the French city of Marseille to Düsseldorf. More of the 150 people killed in the crash are to be repatriated to their home countries in the coming weeks.
Delays over death certificates
Previous delays to the return of bodies by French authorities - owing to problems with clerical errors and the issuing of death certificates - had been criticized by some of the relatives.
On Thursday, relatives were scheduled to meet with the lead French investigator Brice Robin in Paris to hear about the current status of the case.
On Wednesday, Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, announced that it would fly the remains of the Spanish victims from Marseille to Barcelona Monday.
Lufthansa also reported that it was doing all it could to ensure that the transfer was not delayed unnecessarily.
"The French authorities are working hard in order to create the formal conditions for the transfer of the victims as soon as possible," the airline announced in a statement.
Respect for families' wishes
"Lufthansa is in close contact with the relatives to ensure that the transfer of the victims is carried out according to the relatives' wishes," the airline said.
It was only last month that investigators finished identifying the remains of all 150 people who were aboard Germanwings Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Düsseldorf on March 24.
Authorities who examined cockpit voice and data recorders concluded that 27-year-old German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who had a history of severe depression, intentionally crashed the plane.
rc/mkg (AP, epd, dpa)