Plane crash recovery workers face treacherous terrain, high winds

Story highlights

  • High winds are complicating efforts to recover remains and aircraft debris from the mountainous crash site
  • Captain of rescue operations tells CNN that very few bodies have been found whole
  • Recovery workers are being winched down in pairs, one to gather remains and the other to ensure safety

Seyne-les-Alpes, France (CNN)It's a dangerous task as well as a grim one.

The rescue workers battling to gather the pulverized pieces of Germanwings Flight 9525 and the remains of the 150 people on board must contend with high winds as well as treacherous terrain.
    They climb up a rugged mountain, appearing to cling to its side by their fingernails.
    Bit by bit, bag by bag, high wire daredevils hoist body bags hundreds of feet up to waiting helicopters, trying to remain stable in the high winds. Rescuers pin red flags on the earth when they discover new fragments.
    Winched down from helicopters on to the steep, icy slopes, where debris lies scattered across hundreds of meters, workers have had to be tied together in two-person teams.
    One is there to carry out the investigation and recovery. The second is charged with ensuring their safety as they're buffeted by the weather.
    Complicating matters, very few of the bodies have been found whole, Yves Naffrechoux, captain of rescue operations, told CNN on Friday.
    And winds have picked up, making it difficult for helicopters to ferry the workers to the site in the French Alps in the first place, he said.
    Authorities have deployed 45 Alpine police officers to help forensics teams -- not accustomed to working in mountain ravines -- recover the bodies safely, Naffrechoux said.
    His team is based out of Seyne-les-Alpes, a normally sleepy Alpine village that since Tuesday's crash has been transformed into a hub for the recovery operation.
    The leaders of Germany, France and Spain have visited. The families of the victims have laid flowers and prayed at a nearby memorial. Journalists have flocked to the spot as they report the latest developments.
    Meanwhile, the rescue workers have continued their hazardous mission.

    Workers hope to build access road

    Rescue workers continue their search operation near the site of the Germanwings plane crash. (Photo by Francis Pellier MI DICOM/Ministere de l'Interieur/Getty Images)
    Before anything could be recovered, the position of the bodies and debris had to be mapped. Human remains must be treated with due respect despite the tricky conditions.
    The workers are now removing more bodies from the site, Naffrechoux said. The priority remains to find all the bodies and the elusive second "black box," the plane's flight data recorder, he said.
    Investigators hope, once found, it could yield more clues into what happened on the flight deck of the Germanwings plane before it slammed into the mountainside at about 430 miles per hour. Already, the Marseille prosecutor, Brice Robin, has revealed that cockpit audio indicated that German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz "wanted to destroy the aircraft."
    The recovery teams are trying to construct a road to access the site more quickly and aid the transportation of bodies to a DNA testing center where they are kept in refrigerated units, said Naffrechoux.
    It's hoped the process will take 10 to 15 days, depending on weather, he said.

    'Complicated process'

    Testimonials posted by France's Interior Ministry from rescue and recovery workers at the scene also give an insight into the tough conditions at the remote crash site.
    Cmdr. Emmanuel G., of the Criminal Research Institute from the National Gendarmerie, said it was a "really complicated" process.
    "We are working in two-person teams, whether it's alongside (police) mountain guides, the local gendarmes or the alpine firemen and emergency teams," he said. "We do not know how to continue in this situation otherwise, we really need them to ensure our security at all times."
    "It's the first time police technicians and gendarmes are working together," an unnamed technician in one of those two-person teams is quoted as saying.
    "We have total trust in each other. He's holding my life in his hands."