Newspaper headlines: 'Eight minutes of terror'

The death of 150 people in the crash of Germanwings flight 4U 9525 is the news which dominates Wednesday's papers.

There is extensive coverage in most papers, none more so than the Daily Mail, whose headline reads "Why did they let doomed jet fly?"

Image copyright AFP

The paper quotes German reports suggesting that the Airbus A320 which crashed in a remote area of the French Alps had been grounded just 24 hours before it took off from Barcelona for Duesseldorf.

The Mail quotes the reports as saying the jet may have suffered technical issues, including a landing gear problem.

Much of the coverage in Wednesday's press centres around the mystery of the eight minutes during which the Airbus descended rapidly from its 38,000ft cruising altitude to crash into a mountain ravine at about 430mph.

The Guardian says information from plane-tracking websites appears to rule out an explosion or mid-air stall, both of which would have led to a faster descent. No Mayday signal was given.

An eyewitness from the village of Digne-les-Bains saw the plane's descent and is quoted as telling a French TV station: "There was no smoke or particular sound or sign of anything wrong, but at the altitude it was flying it was clearly not going to make it over the mountains.

"I didn't see anything wrong with the plane, but it was too low."

The Independent says there had been warnings issued in December about sensors used by Airbus A320s to relay information to the pilots.

The paper adds that the fault is thought to have caused a Lufthansa plane to have briefly lost height while flying over Spain in 2014, although in that case a crash was averted.

The Independent comments that although there was "no indication" that the sensor fault had contributed to Tuesday's crash, it would "almost certainly" form part of the investigation.

The Daily Telegraph interviews several aviation experts, several of whom believe a malfunctioning onboard computer could have caused the plane to dive into the mountainside "at a steady speed" with the crew passed out through lack of oxygen.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Grieving relatives gathered at El Prat airport in Barcelona and at Duesseldorf airport

The Daily Mirror is one of many papers carrying stories about those who lost their lives in the tragedy.

It reports one German 16-year-old girl, from a party of 16 students from the German town of Haltern-am-See, almost missed the plane, but the Spanish family hosting her rushed her passport and belongings to the airport.

"That act of kindness cost the girl her life," the Mirror says.

Haltern mayor Bodo Klimpel is quoted as saying: "The state of shock that is palpable everywhere - that is pretty much the worst that anyone could imagine."

It also has stories of those who narrowly avoided the tragedy, like the players of Swedish football club Dalkurd FF, who changed travel plans at the last moment, and a Brazilian businessman, who didn't board the plane because his meeting in Germany was postponed.

"I started shaking when I found out what had happened and I'm still trembling," Rafael Rebello tells the paper.

National psyche

The news that prices in the UK have stopped rising for the first time in half a century makes many news pages.

The Financial Times says falling oil and food prices led inflation to slump to 0% in February, providing "an election fillip" to the Conservatives.

The FT says many experts think inflation will continue to fall, getting into negative figures as the election approaches.

One economist tells the paper: "Given the weakness of food and oil prices and with utility price cuts still to fully kick in, a brief period of deflation now looks imminent."

The prospect, the FT points out in an article, creates a dilemma for the Bank of England, which is committed to raising inflation to a target figure of 2%. Deflation can slow the economy, by making businesses and individuals put off buying things as they wait for prices to fall further.

Some economists are calling for further interest rate cuts and a quantative easing (money printing) programme to stimulate demand.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Britain's shoppers show no sign of delaying their purchases, the newspapers say

But Bank governor Mark Carney is quoted in the paper as saying it would be "extremely foolish" to reopen the monetary taps.

The Times editorial says "zero inflation is good, but as low as we want to go".

It says an expectation of rising prices is "built into our national psyche": zero inflation has only been recorded twice before - in 1934 and 1786.

But the paper thinks that the nature of the goods whose price is falling means that harmful deflation could be avoided.

"Our families are unlikely to be impressed by being told that supper is being held over to next month, when the price of beef may have fallen. So we will continue to buy," it argues.

The Guardian's economics editor Larry Elliott argues that the zero figure may be good news, but doesn't expect Britain's bosses to become more generous.

He notes that some economists think that lower employment will lead to higher wage rises which in return will bring inflation back into positive figures.

"This, though, assumes that wage settlements are not dragged lower by the drop in inflation," Elliott writes.

"The fact that average earnings are growing at an annual rate of below 2% even after two years of a relatively robust period of growth is indicative of a labour market where employers are able to secure workers cheaply.

"They may be tempted to be even less generous once inflation goes negative."

'Crying out for honesty'

Still attracting lots of commentary is David Cameron's surprise remark to a BBC interviewer that he would not seek a third term in office, should he be re-elected as prime minister in May.

The Independent says the admission to James Landale has led some Tory critics to conclude that Mr Cameron has "weakened his authority".

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"He has made it acceptable to form armed camps and fan clubs. If he remains in power, he has ensured a five-year Westminster soap opera and has even supplied the main characters," one anonymous senior MP tells the paper.

Another former minister says the revelation "beggars belief" and by making the Tories look "arrogant" will harm their election chances.

A Labour front bencher tells the Indy that the PM's interview was "a gift from the gods" to his party's election team.

The Daily Telegraph's editorial says that Mr Cameron's response to Landale's questioning was "imprudent".

"The prime minister should have said, and no doubt now wishes he had, that the question of a third term does not arise until he has secured a second."

The Sun says that voters in a survey which it has conducted itself "back the PM's honesty" - only 18% of its sample think his interview was "a gaffe".

Its editorial, agrees saying that the remark was a "straightforward response" which should be welcomed in a country "crying out for honesty from its politicians".

Alastair Campbell, writing in the Daily Mirror, says the prime minister's answer - given in a scene filmed in the Cameron family kitchen - shows that the premier has "gone off the boil".

"We are seeing a repeat of some of the reasons he failed to win a majority in 2010," the former Labour communications director writes.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Alastair Campbell

"A lack of clarity over his priorities. A belief that all publicity is good publicity. A lack of focus on the difficult questions at the heart of challenges facing the country."

However, political commentator Chris Roycroft-Davis in the Daily Express says the furore surrounding the off-the-cuff announcement is "synthetic" and drummed up by political opponents and "left-wing media".

"Breaking news. Hold the front page. Pass the smelling salts. A politician has just said what he means," he adds.

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