Germanwings disaster: pilot was locked out of cabin

In a shocking twist to events, it appears that one of the two pilots of the Germanwings plane that crashed in the French Alps was locked out of the cockpit.

Reports today, citing sources close to the investigation, said early findings from the cockpit voice recorder suggest the pilot made desperate efforts to get back in.

The Airbus 320 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf hit a mountain on Tuesday after a rapid eight-minute descent, killing all 150 on board.

On Wednesday, French officials said usable data had been extracted from the cockpit voice recorder but that it was too early to draw any conclusions.

Remi Jouty, director of the French aviation investigative agency, said he hoped investigators would have the "first rough ideas in a matter of days" but the full analysis could take weeks or even months.

However, The New York Times quoted an unnamed investigator as saying that one of the pilots - it is not clear if it is the captain or the first officer - left the cockpit and had been unable to get back in.

"The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer," the investigator said, describing audio from the recorder. "And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer. You can hear he is trying to smash the door down."

A source close to the investigation told a similar story to the AFP news agency.

Lufthansa has not named the pilots but it said the co-pilot joined Germanwings in September 2013, directly after training, and had flown 630 hours.

It said the captain had more than 6,000 hours of flying experience and had been with Germanwings since May 2014, having flown previously for Lufthansa and Condor.

Jouty said the second "black box" - the flight data recorder - had not been found and he could not confirm an earlier statement by President Francois Hollande that its casing had been recovered.

Jouty said controllers observed the plane beginning to descend and tried to contact the pilots but without success.

He ruled out an explosion, saying, "The plane was flying right to the end."

Lufthansa arranges kin visit
Relatives of the passengers and crew are to visit the area. Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, is operating two special flights on Thursday - one from Barcelona and one from Duesseldorf - to Marseille, and both groups will travel on by road.

Germanwings chief Thomas Winkelmann said 72 passengers on flight 4U 9525 were German citizens, including 16 pupils returning from an exchange trip.

Spain's government said 51 of the dead were Spanish.

Other victims were from Australia, Argentina, Britain, Iran, Venezuela, the US, the Netherlands, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, Denmark and Israel.