After months of waiting, families of the 150 people killed when a Germanwings plane smashed into the French Alps in March will finally start burying their loved ones as the airline's parent company begins sending home victims' remains.
Lufthansa prepared Tuesday to ferry coffins with remains of 44 victims by cargo plane from Marseille, France, to Dusseldorf, Germany, where Germanwings flight 9525 from Barcelona was supposed to land March 24. Instead, authorities say, the co-pilot purposely slammed the plane into a mountainside.
"The families are in denial. They cannot and do not want to realize that their children are dead," said Elmar Giemulla, a lawyer for families of 34 of the victims. "It will be brutal when they see the coffins tomorrow, but it is necessary, because they need closure and that's only possible if they accept that their children are dead."
Giemulla's clients include relatives of 16 students from one high school in Haltern, Germany, who were coming home from a school exchange program when they died.
"Now, if the coffins are returning, the parents will know: This is really a fact, it's not just news," he said.
Parents and relatives will be allowed to visit the coffins inside a hangar in Duesseldorf on Wednesday. A convoy of hearses will head for Haltern, passing Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium, the school the teens attended.
Most of the families in Haltern and beyond have been trying to cope with their pain in private, and many of the burials expected in the German town and nearby villages over the next few days and weeks will be family affairs. Remains of the rest of the victims, who had 19 different nationalities, will be sent back over the coming weeks. Nearly half of the victims were German and 47 others were Spanish.
It has taken several months to return the remains in part because of errors on official death certificates that rendered them invalid. There were also challenges finding and identifying the remains in the remote area where the crash happened because the plane was travelling so fast that much of the aircraft was vaporized.
Prosecutors in France and Germany believe Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally crashed the Airbus A320. They say he had been hiding psychological problems from his employer.