We have enough time to have a leisurely breakfast. Around 11 AM all of us, including Grit and Holger, get in the minibus and leave for the mountains. Holger sits in front and talks to the driver in French. Drinks and snacks (energy bars) are provided.
We drive past Mediterranean-looking scenery and buildings. I don´t recognise some kinds of trees. Eventually we see snow-capped peaks approaching in the distance. Serpentines lead us to Le Vernet, at an altitude of over 1000 m (3,281 feet), where the bus finds a parking space near the memorial.
We get out and the sun beams down on our sad faces from the radiant blue sky. The mountains shine brightly. A deep calm lies over the impressive region where something so terrible happened. Our friends place personal items at the memorial which recall Jens. We arrange two framed pictures of our son showing his winning smile.
The fabric of the flag next to us tugs at the mast. It´s new. On it we see the national flags of countries which have lost their citizens in this terrible event. We count 18.
One of my friends begins to water the flowers left by family members as she thinks they could use it. I´m sure she´s doing it because she´s in shock.
We stand in front of the memorial and try to comprehend the incomprehensible, without success. Jens is gone. He´s never coming back. He is dead, dead, dead! Murdered!!!
Two men approach us. I recognise Monsieur Bartolini, the mayor of Prads, and the other introduces himself as Monsieur Jean-Louis Bietrix, an Alpine guide. They greet us with the usual kisses on the cheek.
After offering their condolences they point out the exact ridge behind which the crash site is located. We talk about the disaster.
“Did anyone from the village see the airplane?” we want to know.
The mayor answers, “Yes, there are residents who observed it. It always flies over the area at the same time. A witness claimed it was flying at a lower altitude than normal but he didn´t think anything of it. Another one said that it looked as though the plane was flying lower and lower. He was sure it would never make it over the mountains. Then it disappeared.”
Grit and Holger translate.
“Did they hear an explosion or the impact?”
He shakes his head. “Nobody heard anything at all, neither the collision with the rocks nor an explosion.”
We´re flabbergasted. “Nobody?” I look at the ridge where the passengers lost their lives so violently.
They shake their heads. The Alpine guide adds, “There was also no plume of smoke as a result of an explosion.”
“Why didn´t it burn?” our friend asks.
“The liquids were immediately atomised by the force of the impact. Also, kerosene and hydraulic oil are not flammable,” they explain.
“Eyewitnesses also saw the French air force´s fighter jet which went to the Airbus´s location,” adds Monsieur Bartolini.
And our son Jens was on the A320. I feel sick to my stomach at the thought. Why? Why? Why? I ponder as the white mountain tops glisten in the sun as if they want to comfort us.
© Brigitte Voß / Translation: Ellen Rosenbaum
(To be continued)