IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Three Americans killed in French Alps plane crash

A black box recovered from the Germanwings plane that slammed into a remote Alpine mountainside is damaged but could still yield clues.

A U.S. contractor and her adult daughter were identified Wednesday as two Americans killed aboard the Germanwings plane that plunged into the French Alps mountainside, while the State Department confirmed that a third American was also killed.

Yvonne Selke and daughter, Emily, of Nokesville, Virginia, were the Americans on doomed Flight 4U9525, NBC News has confirmed. The plane crashed Tuesday en route from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany, killing all 150 passengers and crew, officials said. Investigators found one black box and the frame of another black boxfrom the Airbus A320, which was pulverized upon impact in a remote area of the Alps.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki did not identify the third American.

The Selke family released a statement about the tragic loss of the mother and daughter.

"Our entire family is deeply saddened by the losses of Yvonne and Emily Selke," the family said. "Two wonderful, caring, amazing people who meant so much to so many. At this difficult time we respectfully ask for privacy and your prayers."

Yvonne Selke worked as a contractor for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. in Washington, D.C., for nearly 23 years, the company said.

She "was a wonderful co-worker and a dedicated employee who spent her career with the firm supporting the mission of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency," the Pentagon's satellite mapping office, the company said.

On Facebook, Drexel University's Gamma Sigma Sigma sorority posted a tribute to Emily Selke, a 2013 graduate and a former vice president of the service sorority's Zeta chapter.

"She embodied the spirit of Gamma Sigma Sigma," the post said. "As a person and friend, Emily always put others before herself and cared deeply for all those in her life. Emily will be greatly missed by her fellow sisters of Zeta. Please keep Emily, her mother and their family in your thoughts and prayers during this heartbreaking time."

Emily Selke was a music industry major at Drexel's Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. "Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends," the school said in a statement.

Black box audio recovered

Audio from one of the crashed Germanwings plane's black boxes has been recovered, investigators said Wednesday, warning that it could take days or weeks for the material to be fully analyzed. Remy Jouty, director of France's aviation investigation agency, told reporters that it was too soon to draw any conclusions from the recording.

"We just succeeded in getting an audio file which contains usable sounds and voices," he said. "We hope to have a first rough idea in a matter of days and having a full understanding ... will take weeks and even months."

French officials said a black box recovered from the ill-fated plane — Flight 4U9525's cockpit voice recorder — was damaged but could still shed light on what prompted the Airbus A320 to descend rapidly and crash into the Alps, killing all 150 people aboard. Some Germanwings crew members have refused to fly following the unexplained accident.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve acknowledged that all possible explanations for the crash are being considered, but told RTL radio that terrorist action is not the most likely theory.

Officials confirmed to NBC News that the French Air Force had scrambled a Mirage fighter jet to the area when the Germanwings flight lost radar contact on Tuesday, but the jet arrived too late and didn't spot the wreckage.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the crash site on Wednesday, where recovery efforts have been underway since daybreak over the scattered debris field.

"The scene is not like a normal crash," said rescue helicopter co-ordinator Xavier Roy. "We normally find big pieces; there are lots of little pieces. There are no wings; no cockpit. Nothing.

"I have never seen anything like it before. The searchers have to be dropped into the crash site by winch from helicopters. No bodies have been brought up yet."

The aircraft was traveling at 430 mph when it crashed and its impact was "very hard," according to Jean-Paul Troadec, former head of France's Bureau of Investigation for Aviation.

His account was echoed by Cazeneuve's spokesman, Pierre-Henry Brandet, who told NBC News that those who had flown over the site "can't even identify anything that looks like a plane."

"We will take all the time necessary" to remove the victims, he added.

Grieving families were also expected to arrive at the scene and Lufthansa — the owner of Germanwings — said it would help transport relatives to the site.

The State Department confirmed the deaths of two U.S. citizens in the crash, expressing its "deepest condolences" and saying it was in touch with relatives of the deceased. The names of the victims are not being released out of respect for their families, it added in a statement.

Earlier, Germanwings said it believed there were two Americans, 72 Germans and at least 35 Spaniards aboard the flight but that the information was constantly changing.

"We have not been able to contact all of the relatives yet," Germanwings Managing Director Thomas Winkelman told reporters, saying the information about nationalities was correct as of 11 a.m. (6 a.m. ET).

There were two passengers each from Australia, Argentina, Iran and Venezuela and one each from the U.K., Netherlands: Colombia. Mexico, Japan, Denmark and Israel, Winkelman added.

The victims included two babies, two opera singers, an Australian mother and her adult son vacationing together, and 16 German high schoolers returning with their teachers from an exchange trip to Spain.

In Seyne-les-Alpes, locals had offered to host bereaved families because of a shortage of rooms to rent, said the town's mayor, Francis Hermitte.

Claude Buzon, 67, who lives in a village near the crash site, said the doomed plane made a "low sound" unlike the noise normally made by passing jets. "Afterwards I heard no explosion, no impact, nothing," he said.

"It is inexplicable this could happen to a plane free of technical problems and with an experienced, Lufthansa-trained pilot," Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told reporters in Frankfurt.

Lufthansa said the 24-year-old plane had on Monday had repairs to the hatch through which the nose wheel descends for landing. A spokeswoman said that was not a safety issue but that repairs had been done to reduce noise.

In Spain, flags flew at half-staff on government buildings and a minute of silence was held in government offices across the country. Parliament canceled its normal Wednesday session.

Germanwings workers at the company's Cologne headquarters and at several airports observed a one-minute silence to mark the tragedy at 10:53 a.m. local time, the moment the airline says the plane crashed.

Lufthansa — whose employees worldwide also observed a moment of silence — said the flight number 4U9525 had been retired.

The cockpit voice recorder tracks all conversations between the pilots as well as any noises in the cockpit. The flight data recorder, which has not yet been recovered, captures 25 hours' worth of information on the position and condition of almost every major part in a plane.

NBC News' Alastair Jamieson, Nancy Ing and Carol Marquis and The Associated Press contributed to this report

Click here to read more.