Families of those who died when the co-pilot of a Germanwings flight apparently deliberately crashed a plane will receive an initial payment of up to $54,450 per victim from the airline's parent company, a spokesman for the firm said on Saturday.
"The families of the victims can expect all support from Lufthansa: emotional support first and foremost, and then there is an initial financial compensation of 50,000 euros offered to families for each passenger who died in the crash," Lufthansa spokesman Boris Ogursky told NBC News. "This is to offer the families immediate support to help them in this major change in life. They shouldn't have to face a financial problem and they need not worry about paying it back."
The airline is covering transportation and living accommodations for families flying into France from around the world, he said. In total, 18 countries were affected by the crash, and in the past three days, loved ones have flown into Marseilles from Spain, Germany, Japan, Colombia and Mexico.
The news came as officials struggled to discover why the 27-year-old co-pilot locked the captain of Germanwings Flight 9525 out of the cabin and smashed the plane into the French Alps on Tuesday, killing all 150 on board. The captain has not been officially identified.
Ogursky told NBC News on Saturday that Lufthansa will implement new security measures, such as the mandatory presence of two people in the cockpit. In the U.S., those regulations already exist, requiring a flight attendant to be in the cockpit if one of the pilots leaves for a break.
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Regardless, the airline is liable for paying out compensation in the crash, a German aviation lawyer said.
"The insurance that it took out for such cases will step in. But [insurance] can refuse to pay out if it becomes apparent that the pilot, the employee, acted deliberately, for one thing, and the airline could have prevented that," said Elmar Giemulla, who practices in Berlin. "But it does not have any consequences as far as the bereaved are concerned: The airline is liable, be it with insurance cover or not."
Meanwhile, the investigation into the crash entered its fifth day Saturday, with searchers scouring the crash site for any sign of the second black box. The frame for that black box had previously been found.
Plane debris and body parts are being flown out of the grim crash site, which has been challenging physically and emotionally for those combing it, Lt. Colonel Xavier Vialenc, spokesman for the French police, said Saturday.
The workers are dropped to the crash zone daily by a helicopter 80 meters up in the air, Vialenc said.
"The work is complicated by the harsh environment. There are high mountains. The rocks fall down. It's very windy and using the airlift is not easy."
About 600 body parts have been recovered and sent to Paris for DNA identification for the victims' families, he added.
The last time Lufthansa suffered human loss was in 1993, when a runway accident killed a crew member and a passenger.
Bill Neely is NBC News' chief global correspondent. He joined NBC News from Britain’s ITV News in January 2014. His reports from across the globe have earned many awards, including an unprecedented three consecutive BAFTAs, the British equivalent of the Oscars, for his work in China, Haiti, and the U.K.
Andy Eckardt is a producer based in Mainz, Germany. He started this role in 1994.
F. Brinley Bruton
F. Brinley Bruton is senior editor in charge of NBC News Digital’s London bureau.