The school that lost 16 teenage students and two young teachers in the Germanwings plane crash in the French Alps has accused journalists of bribing students for interviews.

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A banner in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See reads: "Stop bribing our children into giving you interviews! Don't prevent Haltern from mourning!"Ina Fassbender/Reuters

The town of Haltern am See is in shock after 14 girls, two boys and two teachers on a Spanish language exchange programme were killed in the crash.

"On Tuesday last week we sent off 16 happy, young people with two happy, young teachers on a journey," said Ulrich Wessel, headmaster of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school. "It was meant to be a journey full of joy, a school exchange that we've been doing for six years. It ended in tragedy. Our school will never be the same again."

The 16 German students, all about 15 years old, had started learning Spanish at the start of the school year and were picked from 40 applicants to attend the popular language exchange programme. A group of Spanish students spent a week in Haltern in December.

"Someone asked me how many we have at our school. Without thinking, I answered 1,283. There are actually 16 fewer now," said Wessel, who was close to tears. "It's all so horrible that I can hardly find words."

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Ulrich Wessel, principal of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium secondary school, participates in a minute of silenceSascha Schuermann/AFP
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Students and staff of Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school hold a minute of silence outside the schoolIna Fassbender/Reuters
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Students of Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school comfort each other outside their school in Haltern am SeeIna Fassbender/Reuters
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Handwritten grief messages hang in a window of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium secondary school in Haltern am SeeSascha Schuermann/AFP

Students gathered in front of their high school to mourn and take part in a minute of silence.

Local residents huddled among themselves, talking quietly and trying to avoid the journalists from across Germany and overseas who had descended on their once little-known town.

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Photographers and TV crews gather in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium school in Haltern am SeeSascha Schuermann/AFP
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Journalists gather at Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am SeeIna Fassbender/Reuters
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A note reading "Keep away = accept mourning" is seen under a windscreen wiper of a car in Haltern am SeeIna Fassbender/Reuters
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People pay tribute to 16 students and two teachers from Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school who were on Germanwings flight 4U9525Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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Mourners arrive to lay flowers and candles at a makeshift memorial at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high schoolSean Gallup/Getty Images
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A child prepares to place a candle at the memorial outside the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high schoolSean Gallup/Getty Images

The headmaster said the two teachers were also young - one got married last year in October and the other was engaged. "From one minute to the next, their life's plans were gone - they'll leave a big hole at our school," Wessel said. "It's a deep wound to lose 16 children and two teachers that will take long to heal and will leave deep scars."

As well as Germans and Spaniards, victims included three Americans, a Moroccan and citizens of Britain, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Iran and the Netherlands, officials said. However, DNA checks to identify them could take weeks, the French government said.

The families of victims were being flown to Marseille on Thursday before being taken up to the zone close to the crash site. Chapels had been prepared for them with a view of the mountain where their loved ones died.

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Relatives of passengers on the Germanwings airliner that crashed in the French Alps board a bus for Barcelona El Prat airport for a plane to MarseilleDavid Ramos/Getty Images
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Journalists wait in Seyne-les-Alpes, near the crash site in the French AlpsBoris Horvat/AFP
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French police close the road the road that leads up to the crash site as families of the victims are expected to start arrivingPatrick Aventurier/Getty Images
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A rescue helicopter from the French Gendarmerie lands behind a media satellite dish near the crash siteJean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
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Members of the media present live coverage on a field during a search and rescue operation near the crash siteJean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
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Television cameras are set up outside the Selke family home in Nokesville, Virginia, US. Yvonne and Emily Selke, mother and daughter respectively, were among the 150 people killed on the Germanwings flight 4U9525 that crashed in the French AlpsWin McNamee/Getty Images

Police and forensic teams on foot and in helicopters pursued searches but said the impact of the crash was so violent that the plane had shattered into small pieces. "When we go to a crash site we expect to find part of the fuselage. But here we see nothing at all," said Xavier Roy, coordinating air operations.

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A French gendarme helicopter flies over the crash site of the Airbus A320, near Seyne-les-AlpesEmmanuel Foudrot/Reuters
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Wreckage is seen at the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus in the French AlpsF Balsamo - Gendarmerie nationale / Ministere de l'Interieur via Getty Images
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French military personnel walk up a mountainside where Germanwings flight 4U9525 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf crashedPeter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The co-pilot of the Germanwings plane appears to have crashed the plane deliberately, a Marseille prosecutor said.

Andreas Lubitz, left in sole control of the Airbus A320 after the captain left the cockpit, refused to re-open the door and pressed a button that sent the jet into its fatal descent, the prosecutor told a news conference.