LONDON — The loss of an Airbus A320 jetliner operated by Deutsche Lufthansa's Germanwings arm in the foothills of the Alps today is likely to prove the worst air crash on French soil in 33 years.
There is little hope of survivors among the single-aisle jet's 150 passengers and crew, French President Francois Hollande has said. That points to the biggest loss of life since an Adria Airways plane hit a mountain in Corsica in 1981, according to Paul Hayes, safety director at Ascend Worldwide.
Among more recent incidents, the fireball that brought down an Air France Concorde in Paris in 2000 killed 109 people on board and four on the ground, while the loss of Air France AF447 in 2009, which claimed 228 lives, happened far from French territory.
Tuesday's tragedy marks the 12th fatal crash involving the Airbus Group A320 series, an industry workhorse with a generally good safety record for the miles flown, Hayes said.
"You've got to take into account that there have been thousands of A320 planes in operation for more than 25 years," Hayes said by telephone. Ascend data shows that A320-series jets performed 8.8 million flights last year, equivalent to about 1 billion passenger sectors.
In the 1981 Corsican incident, the 180 people aboard died when the wing of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80-series plane flown by Slovenian national carrier Adria clipped 3,600-foot Mont San- Pietro while descending into Ajaccio.
Fatal crashes involving the A320 span an incident in which one passenger and one crew member were killed to the loss of 187 people on board on 12 on the ground when a plane operated by Brazil's TAM Airlines, now part of Latam Airlines Group SA, overran the runway in Sao Paulo in 2007, plowing into airline offices and a warehouse.
Tuesday's incident, in which a Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf was lost following a rapid descent from 38,000 feet to 5,000 feet over the town of Barcelonnette in the Alpes de Haute-Provence region, comes less than three months after a AirAsia A320 crashed into the sea in bad weather en route to Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia, killing 162.
The worst crash on French soil happened on March 3, 1974, when a Turkish Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 came down while climbing away from Paris. Some 334 passengers and 12 crew died in the incident, according to Ascend, with a subsequent probe finding that a cargo door had come open at 12,000 feet, leading to a rapid depressurization that cracked the cabin floor and severed control cables, Hayes said.
Known as the Ermenonville air disaster after the forest where the plane fell to earth, the crash was not only the worst on French soil but the deadliest involving a DC-10 and the fourth-worst in aviation history, excluding those who died on the ground in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.