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A passenger plane has crashed in southern France, authorities said. The aircraft, an Airbus A320 from German low-cost airline Germanwings, came down in Digne, southern France.

Some 142 passengers and six crew members were on board flight 4U9525 between Barcelona, Spain, and the German city of Dusseldorf, as it disappeared from radars minutes after 9.30am UTC.

France's President Francois Hollande said the plane crashed near the commune of Barcelonnette in a mountainous area "difficult to access". He said: "The conditions of the crash suggest that there are no survivors."

Broadcaster iTele reported the rescue helicopters spotted debris from the plane at more than 2,000m of altitude.

Flight 4U9525 reportedly made a distress call at 9:47 UTC. According to Flight Radar, the plane climbed to 38,000 feet and then started to descend at a rate of about 3000-4000 feet, until signal was lost at 6,800 feet.

Pierre-Martin Charpenel, the mayor of Barcelonette, told iTele weather conditions in the area at the time of the crash were mainly " calm " and sunny, with some high clouds but "no storm" .

The A320 has a capacity of more than 170. The Cologne-based Germanwings airline is owned by German aviation giant Lufthansa. The company tweeted:

Hollande said he is in contact with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the King of Spain as, although the identities of the victims are not yet known, it is likely many are German and Spanish nationals.

The president expressed his solidarity to the families of the victims.

France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve is due to arrive at the crash site, as search-and-rescue teams were also rushing to the area.

"This morning's air drama has plunged France into a deep sadness. Compassion and solidarity to the families of all victims," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a tweet.

Lufthansa tweeted:

Causes for the crash were not immediately clear. However the plane's descent speed, said to be standard for landing approaches, suggested that an accident (possibly a depressurisation of the cockpit) might have occurred on board, followed by an attempt by the pilots to bring the aircraft down.

The German Foreign Office tweeted:

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