Germanwings crash: President speaks at memorial

German chancellor Angela Merkel, second left, and president Joachim Gauck, second right, join mourners in Cologne. Picture: AP
German chancellor Angela Merkel, second left, and president Joachim Gauck, second right, join mourners in Cologne. Picture: AP
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The Germanwings plane crash was an “unbelievable horror” for the families of those who were killed, German president Joachim Gauck told hundreds of relatives and dignitaries attending a memorial service in Cologne yesterday.

He said the tragedy had been compounded by the apparent senselessness of the co-pilot’s actions in bringing down the plane.

Mr Gauck said people across Germany, which lost 72 citizens, were still coming to grips with the 24 March crash. The second biggest group of victims was from Spain, which lost 51 of its people.

Prosecutors say co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps on the way from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, killing all 150 aboard. They are still trying to determine why.

“We really don’t know what was going through his head during those deciding seconds, in the deciding minutes,” Mr Gauck told the congregation that included German chancellor Angela Merkel, ministers from Spain and France and the heads of Germanwings and its parent airline, Lufthansa.

“But we do know that his relatives also lost on 24 March a person whom they loved, who leaves a void in their lives – in a way for which they can find as little sense as all of the others’ relatives.

“Maybe that is what appalled us so much, the senselessness of what took place.”

Lubitz’s parents had been invited to the service but were not attending, organisers confirmed. The couple have not spoken publicly about the crash.

In the church, the steps to the altar were covered with 150 lighted candles, one for each person who died. A choir sang hymns, and religious leaders said multi-denominational prayers.

Lufthansa carried a live-stream on its website and took out full-page advertisements in many of Germany’s leading newspapers expressing sympathy. Flags were ordered to be flown at half-mast around the country.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Cologne, told victims’ relatives that words alone were too weak to give them any solace but that they should take comfort in the number of people at the memorial service, and those following it online or on television.

“You are not alone in these hours of loneliness,” he said.

Pilots and air stewards were asked not to wear their uniforms, in a mark of respect towards relatives of the dead. Psychologists advised that such a sight might be traumatising, owing to the fact it was a Germanwings pilot who crashed the plane.

The airline has revealed that some of its staff are still too distressed to fly.

The service, led by Cardinal Woelki and Annette Kurschus, a Protestant pastor, was broadcast live on German television.

So far no remains have been released for burial as investigators continue to try to piece together the precise details of the crash and to identify the victims. As such, psychologists who have treated some of the relatives say the memorial service had taken on an even greater significance for the families.

The Germanwings disaster led to air carriers across the world introducing a “rule of two” to prevent a pilot ever being alone on the flight deck.

It has also sparked a debate over the extent to which medical professionals should be obliged to inform authorities about patients with suicidal tendencies if they have a job that might affect public safety.