‘No distress call’ was heard from doomed Airbus

The Germanwings plane reached its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, and then dropped for eight minutes

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France's interior minister said investigators are looking into all possible causes of Tuesday's Germanwings crash in the French Alps, but he appeared to rule out the likelihood of a terrorist attack.

"The debris from the plane is spread over one and a half hectares, which is a significant area because the shock was significant but it shows that the plane did not appear to have exploded," Bernard Cazeneuve told French radio station RTL.

The theory of a terrorist attack is "not the theory we're focusing on," Cazeneuve said.

Nevertheless, the minister added cautiously that "all theories must be carefully examined until we have the results of the enquiry."

He said the black box that had been recovered from the crash site, which records the sounds and conversations in the cockpit, had been damaged and would need to be repaired "in the coming hours."

"The enquiry must begin today," stressed Cazeneuve.

Early Wednesday, investigators began the grim task of sifting through the pulverised remnants of the Germanwings Airbus A320, which smashed into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

The doomed Germanwings flight 4U 9525 did not issue a distress call before it crashed, it has been reported.

A spokesperson for the French Civil Aviation Authority told CNN on Wednesday that the crew of the plane did not issue a call and the plane lost contact with French radar at a height of approximately 6,000 feet.

According to Germanwings, the plane reached its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, and then dropped for eight minutes before being obliterated in the crash.

"The body of the plane is in a state of destruction, there is not one intact piece of wing or fuselage," Bruce Robin, a prosecutor from Marseille, told the Reuters news agency after having seen the wreckage of the aircraft from a helicopter.

The plane was flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf with 144 passengers and six crew on board.

The airline believed there were 67 Germans on the flight. Spain's deputy prime minister said 45 passengers had Spanish names. British nationals and one Belgian were also aboard.

Among the passengers were 16 German pupils returning from an exchange trip.

"The grief of the families and loved ones is immeasurable," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, after flying over the area in the Alps in southeastern France. "We must stand with them. We are all united in great grief."

The plane left Barcelona at 9:55 a.m. It was earlier reported that the crew sent out a distress signal at 10:45 a.m., although this has now been disputed. It crashed in a mountainous zone.

The "black box" flight recorder has been found, France's interior minister has said, while the cause of the crash is not yet known. The voice recorder captures up to two hours of the pilots’ conversations as well as other cockpit noises, including any alarms that would have sounded as the plane descended, according to The New York Times.

A recovery team reached the remote mountain site earlier on Tuesday. Their work was called off in the evening and will resume at first light on Wednesday, the French interior ministry said.

The crashed A320 was 24 years old, and had been with Lufthansa since 1991, according to online database airfleets.net.

Shares in Airbus, the European aerospace giant, slumped on news of the crash, down 1.77 percent to 58.94 euros at 1100 GMT after briefly sliding 2 percent.