Alps plane crash: German pupils devastated by deaths of classmates

  • 26 March 2015
  • From the section Europe
Students and wellwishers gather at a memorial of flowers and candles in front of Joseph Koenig school in Haltern am See. Photo: 25 March 2015
Image caption Students gathered at a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles in front of the school

"I was so happy when I heard that school was closing for the day and we could go home early," 15-year-old Sandra told me. "But then I found out why."

When we arrived at the Joseph Koenig High school in picturesque Haltern am See on Tuesday afternoon, what first struck me was the silence.

One thousand two hundred boisterous pupils normally laugh, jostle and shout their way around the grounds here. But that day they hugged, held hands or sobbed quietly.

Sixteen school friends - boys and girls alive with future hopes and dreams - had gone. In an instant. When Germanwings flight 4U 9525 went down over the French Alps.

The school shut down on hearing the news, but the youngsters we met had lingered on outside.

Not really knowing where to go, what to do or how to react - the reality of their friends' plane crash barely sinking in.

'Why?'

Most of the German pupils on board the flight were 16-year-old girls.

Image caption Many pupils are refusing to believe that their classmates are dead

Philippa Raabe told me her best friend was one of them.

"I can't believe it. I don't want to believe it," she repeated over and over.

"We've known each other since primary school. I keep thinking I'll ask her what she did just now in Spain, what she learned, which adventures she had. I can't cry because I just don't believe it. I can't think of her as a dead person."

Throughout the course of the day we saw the teenagers go through a whole range of emotions - from disbelief to shock to deep sadness.

Tears flowed freely at an evening memorial service. The local church was packed with people and filled with pain.

The priest asked a question on behalf of the whole grieving community: "Why?"

'World stopped'

The names of the dead were then read out in church - as if called from a school register.

Families were told they could stay as long as they liked to light candles and try to find some comfort.

"Put yourself in the parents' shoes," Haltern Mayor Bodo Klimpel told me.

"No parent wants to outlive their children. They are stuck in a nightmare they can never wake up from."

At 03:00 headmaster Ulrich Wessel was back in his school. "The world stopped on 24 March," he said by way of explanation.

He wanted to get everything ready for a day of mourning for the pupils.

And they came in their hundreds, carrying candles and prayers in their schoolbags instead of the usual homework.

Adina Hahlbom brought along some photos of a friend.

"It helps me to look at these," she said. "It reminds me of the times we laughed together and had fun. It's so good that the school is open like this. It helps me to talk. To be with people who understand me and feel like I am feeling inside."

Adina told me she also couldn't stop thinking that it could so easily have been her on the plane.

Classmates who wanted to go on the exchange trip to Barcelona had to enter a lottery.

The winners felt so lucky at the time.