Germanwings plane black box found but damaged

Germanwings' mysterious descent
Germanwings' mysterious descent
Airbus A320 a 'workhorse'
Airbus A320 a 'workhorse'
Fmr. Continental Airlines CEO speaks on Germanwings
Fmr. Continental Airlines CEO speaks on Germanwings
Germanwings passenger jet crash site
Germanwings passenger jet crash site

Experts are examining the "black box" recorder found at the scene of the crash of the Germanwings Airbus A320 plane that crashed Tuesday as the airline, aircraft manufacturer and authorities try to ascertain what caused the plane to crash into the French Alps.

On Wednesday morning, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the voice recorder retrieved from the crash site a few hours after the crash is damaged but could still be used fill in the gaps about the Lufthansa-owned airplane's accident.

At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, French President Francois Hollande said that the search for the second black box was ongoing, although its case had been found.

The cockpit voice recorder being examined by France's Bureau of Investigation and Analysis (BEA)
"Source: Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (BEA, France,".

No Mayday signal was sent by the two pilots of the plane as it made its rapid descent before crashing, civil authorities told the AFP news agency, and it was air traffic controllers on the ground that implemented an aircraft distress alert.

Read MoreAirbus crash: Search and rescue in pictures

Rescue teams operating in the largely inaccessible region found no survivors among the total 150 passengers and crew on board.

Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said on social media site Twitter on Wednesday morning that "seeing the site of the accident was harrowing."

Lufthansa tweet

At a press conference Wednesday morning, Spohr said it was inexplicable how an aircraft in good condition with an experienced pilot could crash, Reuters reported. He said he would not take part in speculation over the causes of the crash, however.

European leaders reacted quickly to Tuesday's news, calling the crash a tragedy and sending their condolences to the families of the victims. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to arrive at 2pm Wednesday to visit the crash site, along with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and French President Francois Hollande.

Martin Alder, flight safety Specialist, British Airline Pilots Association, told CNBC that conjecture was "very difficult in these cases" but he believed the chances of getting data from the plane's flight recorders was reasonably high.

"At the moment all we can draw conclusions from is that the plane descended but not particularly rapidly…the probability that the flight data recorder may well be damaged – hopefully only superficially - is reasonably high (and) they seem very confident that they can extract information from that. The type of memory devices used in the flight data recorders these days are usually very robust," he told CNBC Europe's "Squawk Box" Wednesday.

Black box hopes

The search of the crash site was called off late Tuesday due to worsening weather conditions but was expected to resume Wednesday morning, if possible. However, it is expected to take time to retrieve the bodies of victims due to the difficult terrain and weather conditions.

As details emerge of the plane's passengers victims, it is believed that there were 49 Spaniards, 67 Germans, two Australians, two Japanese and Turkish passengers on board. At least three Britons were believed to be among those killed, according to British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

Also among the passengers there were also 16 schoolchildren returning from a foreign exchange trip and two babies.

Contact lost

Gendarmerie and French mountain rescue teams arrive near the site of the Germanwings plane crash.
Patrick Aventurier | Getty Images

There is hope that a current examination of one of the recorders belonging to the aircraft that Tuesday will help to uncover what happened to the 24-year-old plane -- which had its last safety inspection on Monday -- Germanwings' managing director, Thomas Winkelmann, said Tuesday.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Winkelmann said that the plane had left Barcelona at 10:01a.m. local time and that on board were 144 passengers, including two babies, and a total of 6 crew members, two of whom were the pilots.

He said that one minute after the plane reached its cruising height of 38,000 feet it started descending, and continued to lose altitude for eight minutes in total, he said.

"Contact between the airplane and French radar and French flight controllers was lost at 10.53 am (local time) at a height of around 6,000 feet. The plane then crashed," Winkelmann said.

There was no indication that the crash was due to terrorism, the White House said Tuesday. The captain of the plane, Germanwings' Winkelmann said, had worked for the company for more than 10 years and had clocked up 6,000 flight hours on the Airbus A320 model.

Alder believed it was unusual for no distress signal to be sent by the pilot, however.

"I'm an examiner and instructor for the Airbus A320 plane and part of the processes you go through if you have an abnormality or emergency is to alert Air Traffic Control (ATC) of your problem because quite often they can give you assistance."

"So an eight-minute period of time with no communication," he said, was "unusual" although he did not believe a terrorist attack was likely, saying that would be "very speculative."

An aged plane?

The plane's age was not a factor in the crash, he believed however, saying that the 24-year old Airbus had not even reached half its expected design life and that Lufthansa had a very high global reputation for its safety standards.

"A 24 year old aircraft maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's schedule, and Lufthansa goes beyond that, would be no cause for concern at all."

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Even so, Germanwings might have to cancel more flights on Wednesday, however, as some crew members have refused to fly.

"There will be irregularities... There are crew members who do not want to fly in the current situation, which we understand," a spokeswoman for Germanwings said, Reuters reported.

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt.