German President Joachim Gauck and the premier of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hanelore Kraft, attended an ecumenical Christian service at the Sixtus Church in the small town of Haltern am See on Friday, where classmates and staff gathered to remember the students and teachers who died in the crash.
Two teachers and 16 students from the Joseph König High School in Haltern were on board Germanwings flight 4U9525 when it crashed into a mountainside in the French Alps on Tuesday, killing all 150 people on board.
"We cannot end all suffering," Gauck said at the memorial ceremony. "But we have arms, hands and hearts, and we can use them to help by standing by the side of those in mourning and showing our solidarity."
The president's office said the head of state hope to have the opportunity to meet with some of the families of the victims. Gauck, who was in Peru on Tuesday, broke off his state visit to South American countries shortly after learning of the crash.
Meanwhile on Friday, French investigators and other workers continued recovery operations at the site of the crash, seeking to retrieve the bodies of the deceased but also the second black box containing the flight data recorder. They hope it will provide more clues to what caused Tuesday's crash.
After having retrieved and analyzed the other black box, which records the voices of the pilots in the cockpit, French investigators on Thursday suggested that the co-pilot had deliberately put the Airbus A320 into a descent after the plane's captain had left the cockpit.
Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin told a press conference that the co-pilot also appeared to have locked the pilot out of the cockpit, when he sought to return a few minutes later.
"100 percent aviation worthy"
This, and a statement by Carsten Spohr, the CEO of Lufthansa, Germanwings' parent company, in which he mentioned an interruption in the co-pilot's aviation training, have led to widespread speculation about his mental health.
However, speaking at a press conference in Cologne on Thursday, Spohr stressed that following the interruption to his training, the co-pilot had again been thoroughly vetted by the company.
"He was 100 percent aviation worthy, without any conspicuous anomalies," Spohr said.
Later on Thursday, investigators searched the 27-year-old co-pilot's family home in the western town of Montabaur, as well as his apartment in Düsseldorf, looking for clues to a possible motive, if he did in fact crash the plane deliberately.
The crash has already made an impact on German aviation, with the country's BDL aviation federation announcing on Thursday that airlines such as Lufthansa and Air Berlin intended to implement a two-person cockpit rule, which already exists in the United States. This would mean that when a pilot wants to leave the cockpit during flight, another member of the crew would have to temporarily take his or her place.
pfd/sms (AFP, dpa, EPD, Reuters)