COLOGNE, Germany (Reuters) - The passengers and crew killed in the Germanwings plane that crashed into the French Alps were remembered on Friday at a memorial service in which 150 candles were lit on the steps of the altar of Cologne Cathedral.
With the grief still raw just over three weeks after the crash that killed all 150 people on board, small wooden angels were put on the pews to comfort the 500 family members trying to come to terms with how and why their loved ones died.
German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is suspected of deliberately crashing the jet into a mountainside during a flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf on March 24.
Lubitz had suffered from severe depression in the past and a computer found in his home showed he had used the Internet to research ways of committing suicide in the days leading up to the crash. Prosecutors also found torn-up sick notes at his home showing he should not have flown on the day of the flight.
German President Joachim Gauck said the futility of the disaster was particularly horrifying, adding the tragedy had not only provoked grief and sorrow but also shock about the abysses of the human soul.
“We’re being confronted with a disturbing act of destruction. We can’t find an answer to the question of why so many people had to die because of a decision that one person made,” he said at the ceremony.
During the service, the small wooden angels were also given to a woman representing the victims’ families; Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz on behalf of those from Spain; French Transport Minister Alain Vidalies, as a sign of gratitude for the French people who helped the relatives; and to Germanwings Managing Director Thomas Winkelmann, among others.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and people who helped clear the crash site joined locals from Cologne at the service at the vast gargoyle-covered cathedral.
On the square outside, a white flag with a black cross was blowing in the wind while red and white candles flickered. White, red and blue flowers had been placed alongside messages of sympathy.
“Time doesn’t heal all wounds; it simply teaches us to live with what we cannot understand,” one read while another said: “Depression is unpredictable”.
Investigators suspect Lubitz locked the captain out of the cockpit before putting the plane into descent and increasing the jet’s speed several times as it went down, while the pilot tried to force his way into the cockpit and passengers screamed.
Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, canceled its 60th anniversary celebrations set for April following the disaster and set up screens showing live coverage of the memorial service at its main bases.
It also placed memorial pages in major newspapers dedicated to the memory of passengers and staff who died in the disaster, saying: “We will never forget them”.
Flags were lowered to half-mast across Germany and Cologne buses and trains stood still for a minute before the service started. Hundreds of locals gathered outside the cathedral to watch the service live on large screens and it was also broadcast live on national television.
Additional reporting by Stephen Brown and Victoria Bryan; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Erik Kirschbaum and Alison Williams