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Where grief knows no borders

THREE countries united in grief yesterday as three heads of state, French President Francois Hollande, Germany's Angela Merkel and Spain's Mariano Rajoy travelled to the crash site in a remote French Alpine region.

They came to the desolate mountain scene to pay tribute to the 150 crash victims, mostly German and Spanish.

However, while Mr Hollande promised that authorities would not rest until the causes of the crash were known, France's BEA air incident investigation bureau said it was still far too early to draw meaningful conclusions on why the plane, operated by the Germanwings budget arm of Lufthansa, went down.

President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Rajoy, thanked search teams and met residents in the village of Seyne-les-Alpes, where the salvaging operation has been set up.

"Dear Angela, dear Mariano, rest assured... we will find out everything," Mr Hollande told German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, pledging to get to the bottom of what caused the crash. "France stands by you."

An evidently moved MrsMerkel replied: "It feels good that in a difficult hour like this that we're standing so closely together in friendship. Dear Francois, I'd like to say to you a heartfelt 'thank you' in the name of millions of Germans who are deeply appreciative of this German-Franco friendship."

An emotional tribute ceremony took place on a site with a view in the distance of the mountain against which the Airbus crashed.

Earlier, Lufthansa said it could not explain why the Airbus run by its low-cost Germanwings unit crashed.

Numbed

"It is inexplicable this could happen to a plane free of technical problems and with an experienced, Lufthansa-trained pilot," its CEO Carsten Spohr told reporters in Frankfurt.

Germanwings said it cancelled one flight yesterday and was using 11 planes from other carriers for about 40 flights after some of its crew members had refused to fly.

Employees laid candles and flowers by Germanwings headquarters at Cologne/Bonn airport, while Lufthansa and Germanwings staff worldwide held a moment of silence at 10:53am local (0953 GMT) - the moment the plane went missing.

Spain says it will send a six-member scientific police team to France to help with victim identification in the Germanwings plane crash, as soon as the bodies start to be bought down from the crash site.

Interior Ministry official Francisco Martinez also said six Spanish psychologists will be sent to the town of Seyne-Les-Alpes near the crash site and five to Marseille to help tend to families of victims.

He said Spain has also offered to send army search and rescue teams if needed. In cities flags flew at half-staff on government buildings and a minute of silence will be held at legislative and government buildings across the country in memory of the Germanwings crash victims. Spain's national parliament canceled its normal Wednesday session out of respect.

Barcelona's Liceu opera house will hold two minutes of silence at noon in homage to two opera singers - Oleg Bryjak and Maria Radner - who took the flight after performing at the theater last weekend. Earlier President Barack had called Mr Rajoy to express his condolences following the crash of the Germanwings plane in which at least 35 Spaniards died.

Sympathy

Mr Obama conveyed "his condolences and those of the American people to Spain and to the families lost on the flight," the U.S. Embassy in Madrid said. Obama also offered assistance from American officials. Meanwhile in Berlin Germany's interior minister said there was no reason to suspect foul play. Investigations would pursue all possible angles, Thomas de Maiziere told reporters on yesterday. But he added: "There is no concrete evidence that third parties were involved in the causes of the crash."

The White House also said that it had "no indication of a nexus to terrorism" in the crash . But State prosecutors in the German city of Duesseldorf, where the Germanwings flight had been heading from Barcelona, opened a preliminary investigation to ascertain the identity of the victims and the cause of death, a spokesman said.

However, it is understood that the German prosecutors will not travel to the crash site but will instead work closely with the French authorities, the spokesman for the prosecutors' office said.

Irish Independent