Schoolchildren in the German town of Haltern wept openly and lit candles for 16 students and two teachers who died when their plane crashed in the Alps on Tuesday. They were returning from an exchange trip to Spain.
“It’s the darkest day in this town’s history,” said Bodo
Klimpel, mayor of the town of less than 40,000 people, as he
tried to fight back tears. “We’re in a state of shock. It’s
the worst thing ever imaginable.”
The 10th grade students – aged 15 and 16 – from Josef Konig
Gymnasium were due to return through Dusseldorf airport on
Tuesday afternoon after a Spanish-language exchange trip to
Barcelona, where they had spent the past week. Rumors began to
spread throughout classrooms, and children attempted to contact
“And then when the plane didn’t land and they were unable to
make contact with their friends and classmates by cell phone,
that’s when they assumed the worst had happened,” said
As footage of the plane – “pulverized” on impact when it
hit the side of an Alpine mountain – began to filter through, all
classes were called off.
About 100 people then gravitated to the courtyard – some talking,
others just standing in silence.
“It was crazy. Many peopled started weeping at the same time
and many were distraught,” an 11th-grader told NBC News.
A stone slab traditionally used for playing table tennis soon
became filled with flowers, candles inscribed with the names of
dead friends, and personalized condolences.
— 1001pts Australia (@1001ptsAU) March
“They were flying home after having what was probably the
most wonderful time of their lives,” said Sylvia Loehrmann,
the education minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia,
where the school is located. “It’s so tragic, so sad, so
So much sorrow in our town right now. Memorial outside the
school in Haltern pic.twitter.com/tnvuxpVkK1
— Eoghan mac Suibhne (@buileshuibhne) March
The school has decided to open on Wednesday without classes, to
let the students and staff grieve if they want to come in.
“It’ll be a chance for the students to talk about the
horrible thing that happened,” said Klimpel. “The
sympathy we have received is overwhelming”
Llinars del Valles, the Catalan town of 9,000 that hosted the
children, was also in mourning, as its families were the last to
see the children alive.
“The whole village is distraught,” said Mayor Marti
Pujol. “The families knew each other…the parents had been
to see them off at six this morning.”
All 150 people aboard flight 4U9525 died, 67 of whom are reported
to be German citizens. The plane – operated by Lufthansa’s budget
subsidiary Germanwings – gained altitude after leaving Barcelona,
before apparently plummeting downwards for eight minutes and
colliding with an Alpine mountainside on the French border.