Samuel Perriman, Operations Coordinator for Reuters-TIMA, reflects on covering the Germanwings crash in the French Alps.
Tuesday 24th March
On Tuesday morning a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed into the side of a mountain in the French Alps. Within minutes of the tragic news breaking our London office were coordinating the Reuters-TIMA deployment.
Staff were sent from the Paris office to meet an SNG truck in Seyne-les-Alpes that was already on its way from Marseilles. Shortly afterwards I was on a flight from London to Nice before driving up into the Alps.
Seyne was quickly established as the base for the French gendarmerie’s search and rescue efforts and the world’s media soon followed. The Reuters-TIMA SNG arrived on site a few hours after the crash and reporters started filing the little information that was known at that point.
Wednesday 25th March
We were kept busy from first thing in the morning as Nine Network Australia and TBS Japan took their reporters live for their evening bulletins.
The crew put in a great effort to make everything work smoothly, especially considering the weather. The live positions are all located in an open field with very little protection from the wind and one of the biggest challenges was just staying warm. Temperatures dropped below 0˚C at night and frost covered the camera equipment.
And of course there was also the challenge of dealing with the nature of the story. At this stage it was clear that there would be no survivors. I found it very hard being near the site of such death and destruction and that reality weighs heavily on you. We were standing in the same mountains where 150 people were killed on their way back from holidays and school exchange trips. We watched the search helicopters setting out on their grim missions to retrieve the bodies. It’s an entirely different experience to witnessing the tragedy from afar.
Thursday 26th March
On Thursday the cockpit recording was made public and revealed that the 27-year-old co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had locked the pilot out of the cockpit and deliberately started the descent that crashed the plane.
That same day we saw some of the victim’s relatives arrive in Seyne in large coaches flanked by police outriders. The news that the death of their loved ones was caused by the deliberate actions of the co-pilot, someone who had been entrusted with their safety, would only have made the trip more painful.
Friday 27th March
On Friday the first reports about the co-pilot’s motives started to trickle out. His mental state and previous struggles with depression were scrutinized and the media focus shifted slightly from the Alps to Germany. There were over 40 SNG trucks positioned in Seyne during the first days of the story but the numbers thinned steadily. Meanwhile, Reuters-TIMA are still on-site.
Sunday 29th March
There are still plenty of unanswered questions in this story and the crash site investigators will spend weeks, if not months, sifting through the plane wreckage. But our time in the Alps has finished and we drive down to Nice to catch the last flight of the day back to London. An hour into the Easyjet flight people suddenly pay attention as the cockpit door opens for the pilot to use the toilet. The pilot exits the cockpit and a flight attendant goes in to join the co-pilot while a second attendant blocks the cockpit door. Easyjet have already introduced a new policy so that there are two people in the cockpit at all times. It’s a surreal reminder of the tragedy in the Alps.