Europe

Alps plane crash: Memorial service held in Cologne

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Media captionBells tolled and candles were lit at the service in Cologne Cathedral

Emotional tributes have been paid to the victims of last month's Alps plane crash at a memorial service in Germany.

Some 500 relatives of the dead were among the 1,400-strong congregation at Cologne cathedral.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was joined by ministers from France and Spain, and executives from Germanwings and its parent company Lufthansa.

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is accused of deliberately flying the plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 on board

The two-hour service included tributes from relatives, dignitaries and members of the emergency services.

German President Joachim Gauck told the congregation that the country was still in "enormous shock".

"We face not only sadness and pain but also the horror of peering into the abyss inside the human soul, even inside our human existence itself," Mr Gauck said.

A sister of one of the victims, named only as Sarah, told mourners: "Let love be stronger than the desperation in the midst of sorrow."

'Not for us to judge'

Organisers placed 150 candles inside the church, one for every person who died, including Lubitz.

Asked about the decision to include the co-pilot, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne, said: "It's not for us to judge."

Lubitz's parents were invited to the memorial but chose not to attend.

Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz told the congregation: "We must try to fill this hole with love and hope".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Church leaders reflected on the struggle of relatives to comprehend what has happened
Image copyright AP
Image caption The service was attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (fourth from right) and members of the French and Spanish governments
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mourners gathered outside the cathedral to watch the service on big screens

Bells tolled as mourners arrived for the service.

Flags flew at half-mast across Germany, and large screens were erected for crowds gathered outside.

At the scene: Anna Holligan, BBC News, Cologne

Shards of sunlight shone through the grand gothic spires of Cologne cathedral. Hundreds of tourists paused, their cameras poised, as the ministers and mourners streamed inside and the bells rang out across the city.

Inside, 150 flames flickered, one white candle for each of the dead. Wooden angels were passed between the mourners, small symbols of unity and faith.

One German who had come to watch from outside the cathedral told me it was right that Lubitz had a candle. After all, she said, it was in the Christian spirit to forgive.

Rescue workers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and students from the Joseph Koning school in Haltern sat together in the pews. Some wiped away tears.

The school ensemble performed the sombre theme tune from the film Schindler's List, a special tribute to 16 students and two teachers who went on a language exchange trip and never returned.

Efforts are still being made to identify the bodies. None of the victims have been laid to rest. For that reason, today's memorial was especially significant for the relatives who gathered to share part of their agonising wait.

Who were the victims?

The Airbus 320 was travelling from Barcelona to Duesseldorf on 24 March with 144 passengers and six crew members on board when it crashed in the southern French Alps.

Data from one of the plane's flight recorders appeared to show Lubitz locking the captain out of the cockpit while he put the plane in to a descent.

It later emerged he had a history of depression and was receiving treatment from neurologists and psychiatrists. He had been signed off from work a number of times, including on the day of the crash.

What happened in the last 30 minutes of Flight 4U 9525?

Who was Andreas Lubitz?

Some 72 Germans were on board the aircraft when it went down, along with 50 Spaniards and other passengers from around the world.

Investigators are still trying to formally identify all of the victims, whose remains were recovered from the crash site near the French village of Le Vernet.

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