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16 German school children believed to be on board fatal flight

The students are reported to have been a school class on its way from an exchange trip.

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No fewer than 16 German school children are reported to have been on board the fatal Germanwings flight which crashed in the French Alps earlier today.

The students are reported to have been a school class on its way from an exchange trip, BBC reports.

The Airbus A320 - flight 4U 9525 reportedly went down between Digne and Barcelonnette, none of the 144 passengers or 6 crew is expected to have survived.

Officials say the plane crashed after an eight-minute descent and it is unclear if it sent a distress signal.

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Reacting to the news, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that "this is the hour in which we all feel deep sorrow," saying she was planning to travel to the crash site.

A rescue helicopter has reportedly reached the site of the crash which is in a remote mountain area. Local council official, Gilbert Sauvan said the plane had "disintegrated" and the "the largest debris is the size of a car" .

Germanwings Managing Director, Thomas Winkelmannhe said the plane began descending one minute after reaching its cruising height and continued to lose altitude for eight minutes.

The aircraft then lost contact with French air traffic controllers at 10:53 at an altitude of about 6,000 feet.

Germanwings, wholly owned by parent Lufthansa, operates increasing numbers of the group's point-to-point short-haul routes and takes many passengers from German cities to Mediterranean sunspots.

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The airline reportedly has an excellent safety record with no previously reported accidents.

Though a rescue helicopter has reached the site of the crash, details of the exact casualty situation remains unknown, even as a spokesman for the French interior ministry said the search would be "an extremely long and extremely difficult'' operation because of the remote location.

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