Germanwings crash: School victims return home

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Media captionJenny Hill reports on the arrival of the cortege in the town of Haltern

A cortege carrying the coffins of German schoolchildren killed in the Germanwings plane crash has arrived in their home town of Haltern.

Residents holding white roses lined the route as the convoy of white hearses passed the children's school.

Earlier, relatives of 44 of the 150 victims viewed their coffins inside a hangar at Duesseldorf airport.

The victims' remains are the first to be repatriated following delays over errors on the death certificates.

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is believed to have deliberately crashed the Airbus A320 into the French Alps in March.

Candles lit

Eighteen of the victims - 16 schoolchildren and two teachers - were from the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium school in the north-western German town of Haltern and had been returning from an exchange trip in Barcelona when the plane crashed.

White hearses carried the children's remains from Duesseldorf airport while the coffins of the two teachers were in black hearses.

White candles were lit in the school grounds, where 18 trees - one for each victim - were recently planted as a memorial.

Flags on the town hall in Haltern were at half-mast.

Image copyright AFP

At the scene: Anna Holligan, BBC News, Haltern

Hundreds of students gathered outside the school gates, some clutching white roses and others carrying candles. For the small town of Haltern, this was the most unimaginable homecoming.

The white hearses carrying the coffins crept past the school. There were hugs and tears. The children watched in silent grief and disbelief.

After the cortege had passed, small clusters of children congregated on the kerbside, taking comfort in companionship.

The white roses that fell from the hearses were carefully collected and placed underneath the freshly planted saplings. Eighteen trees placed in a classroom formation to remember those they loved and lost.

Haltern Mayor Bodo Klimpel said there was a sense of relief in the town now that the children's remains had been repatriated.

"After so many weeks of waiting, especially for the relatives, we are of course relieved that we have them back," he said.

"It was very moving when we left the motorway and entered town, how people showed their sympathy by lining the streets, praying and crying."

Ulrich Wessel, the school's headmaster, said it had been an important event.

"From Friday, the burials will take place over the course of two weeks and this will be a further horrible moment, having to say goodbye to the children. So today was brutal but, at the same time, important."

The remains of the rest of the victims will be repatriated over the coming weeks. The passengers were from 18 countries, including Australia, Argentina and Japan, but most of those on board were either Spanish or German.

Image copyright Various
Image caption The faces of some of those on board the Airbus 320

Germanwings: The unanswered questions

Who were the victims?

Families of the victims were angered last week after the repatriation of some of the bodies was delayed because of errors on the death certificates in France.

Lufthansa, which transported the remains of the 44 victims from Marseille on Tuesday night, is a parent company of budget airline Germanwings.

Prosecutors investigating the crash are looking into the possibility of launching a criminal case against the airlines for failing to recognise that Lubitz posed a danger, with reports that he had a history of depression, our correspondent in Duesseldorf says.

Earlier this month, French state prosecutor Brice Robin reportedly said Lubitz had attempted to speak to dozens of doctors ahead of the crash, but did not specify what the co-pilot was seeking help for.

Mr Robin, who is leading the investigation, is due to meet some of the victims' relatives on Thursday to discuss identification and the process of handing over the remains.

Both Germanwings and Lufthansa have previously said that Lubitz, 27, had passed all fitness to fly tests.

Lufthansa has also acknowledged that it knew the co-pilot had suffered from severe depression in 2009 while training for his pilot's licence.