However, civil aviation authorities later denied that air traffic controllers received any such call.
'The aircraft did not itself make a distress call, but it was the combination of the loss of radio contact and the aircraft's descent which led the controller to implement the distress phase,' a spokesman for the French civil aviation authority said.
Germanwings chief executive Thomas Winkelmann said the aircraft began descending at 10.45am, a minute after reaching cruising height of 38,000ft.
This descent lasted eight minutes, he told reporters in Cologne. Radar and air traffic control contact broke off at 10.53am when it is understood to have crashed at more than 400mph.
Lufthansa bosses tonight said the
Germanwings said it was thought that 63 of the passengers on board were Germans, while reports from Spain suggest that around 47 Spaniards may have been on the flight.
Officials at Barcelona's El Prat airport, where the plane took off from, said relatives of the dead had also identified two Argentinians, an American, a Colombian, a Mexican, a Belgian, a Moroccan national and seven Germans as being on the flight.
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