TIME Military

Army to Try Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for Desertion and ‘Misbehavior’

Had no option if it wanted to maintain good order and discipline

The Army had little choice other than to charge Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl with desertion. Otherwise, it faced an insurrection in the ranks, corrosion of discipline—or both.

“Bowe Bergdahl is a coward,” says Rob Kumpf, a one-time Army sergeant who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a refrain echoed by many active-duty troops, although Bergdahl has yet to tell his side of the story publicly. “While I strongly believe that we, as Americans, are duty bound to never leave one of our own behind,” Kumpf says, “I strongly hope that the government does what it needs to do to punish Mr. Bergdahl for his crimes.”

Bergdahl fell into Taliban hands in Afghanistan in 2009 after he reportedly became disillusioned with the war and walked away from his combat outpost. He was released after five years in captivity in a controversial exchange for five detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Army announced Wednesday that he is being charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. A preliminary hearing could lead to a full-fledged court martial.

Ralph Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, hailed the action. “My Army showed some backbone,” he says. “At least some of our generals have spines.”

The Army’s decision is gutsy, on two counts: first of all, it holds the White House, which celebrated his release with a Rose Garden ceremony featuring President Obama and Bergdahl’s parents, up to ridicule.

President Obama Makes A Statement On Release Of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
J.H. Owen – Pool / Getty ImagesPresident Obama hails Bergdahl’s return home last May with his parents, Jani and Bob.

Secondly, it means the Army could have to explain why it accepted Bergdahl as a soldier two years after he washed out of Coast Guard basic training, normally a red flag for recruiters.

While the desertion charge carries a maximum of five years imprisonment (only in a declared war can it carry the death penalty), the misbehavior charge could lead to a lifetime prison sentence. “The second charge—which is similar to ‘aiding and abetting’ in civilian parlance—suggests to me that we have strong evidence that Bergdahl may have given the Taliban important tactical information, or have otherwise been helpful to them,” Peters says.

While Bergdahl’s legal team didn’t respond directly to the charges in a statement it issued, it asked “that all Americans continue to withhold judgment until the facts of this case emerge.” Pentagon officials suggested a plea deal might avoid a public court-martial.

The Army faced grave consequences if it elected not to pursue the charges against Bergdahl. “The decision to court martial Bergdahl was probably the only one that the Army could make,” says Gary Anderson, a retired Marine colonel who served as a civilian adviser in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Any army has to have discipline at its core, and he is accused of deliberately leaving his post which endangered those soldiers who had to go look for him.”

Soldiers have alleged (although the Pentagon has said it can’t confirm) at least six U.S. troops died in clashes with the Taliban while hunting for Bergdahl after he went missing and was seized by the Taliban in Paktika province on June 30, 2009. “Bergdahl’s walking away was a large factor contributing to my son’s death,” Andy Andrews of Cameron, Texas, told TIME after Bergdahl’s release. His son, 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, was killed by an RPG September 4, 2009, while protecting a fellow soldier. They had been on a routine patrol near where Bergdahl vanished, and had been asking locals about him when they were attacked. “Sergeant Bergdahl is not a hero, and my son—who sacrificed himself to save others—was a hero,” Andrews said.

The Taliban released Bergdahl last May in a controversial trade for five Taliban detainees the U.S. was holding at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill criticized Obama for not informing them of the trade before it happened. Soldiers in Bergdahl’s unit kept quiet about his disappearance until the White House ceremony heralding his return to the U.S.

“I think he abandoned his post while the other four soldiers were asleep,” Greg Leatherman, Bergdahl’s former squad leader, told TIME after Bergdahl returned to U.S. soil (he has spent much of his time since at a San Antonio, Texas, Army post, where his preliminary hearing will be held at a yet-to-be-specified date). “He was a loner, he didn’t like to share much with anyone. Read the Koran quite a bit, which I respected. I saw it as him trying to be a better soldier, learning more about the people we were going to work with,” Leatherman said. “Turns out he was preparing.”

Charles Jenkins’ fate illustrates what Bergdahl might face, if the pre-trial hearing announced Wednesday leads to his eventual conviction at court martial. Jenkins deserted his Army unit in South Korea in 1965 and lived in North Korea until 2004. He ultimately pleaded guilty to charges of desertion and aiding the enemy. He received a dishonorable discharge, was stripped to the Army’s lowest rank, forfeited all pay and benefits, and was sentenced to 30 days in prison (he got out six days early for good behavior). He now lives in Japan.

But Jenkins was 64 when sentenced (Bergdahl turns 29 Saturday) and no one allegedly died trying to find Jenkins after he headed north through the Demilitarized Zone one freezing January night nearly 50 years ago.

The case also poses some risks for the Army itself. Bergdahl was discharged early from the Coast Guard, after only 26 days in boot camp in 2006, two years before he tried to enlist in the Army. The Coast Guard described the action as an “uncharacterized discharge,” which is typical for someone who leaves the service without completing basic training.

Generally such an event would have required a waiver from the Army before allowing such a prospective recruit to enlist. A wide variety of bars to enlistment—including legal problems and health concerns—require waivers because the Pentagon believes such recruits won’t do as well in uniform as those without such warning signs.

In 2008, the year Bergdahl joined the Army, the service granted waivers for about 20% of its recruits, usually for illicit drug use or other legal problems. Such waivers spiked as popular support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq sagged and the Army found it more difficult to entice young Americans to enlist.

Read next: The Desertion Charge for Bowe Bergdahl Was Months in the Making

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME

Israel’s Netanyahu Tapped to Form New Government

(JERUSALEM) — Israel’s president has formally tapped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government, giving the Israeli leader up to six weeks to put together a new ruling coalition.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party captured 30 seats in last week’s national election, making it the largest party in the 120-seat parliament. Although his party does not control a majority, party leaders controlling a total of 67 seats have recommended that Netanyahu lead the next government for what would be his third consecutive term as prime minister.

With these parties backing him, Netanyahu is all but guaranteed of forming a governing coalition. But the various partners will all be making conflicting demands for Cabinet portfolios, meaning that weeks of negotiations could lie ahead.

TIME Aviation

Why the Black Box Recordings Deepen Germanwings Crash Mystery

Reports suggest that one of the pilots tried to break back into the cabin minutes before the plane crashed

BREAKING NEWS: Prosecutor Says Germanwings Co-Pilot Purposely Crashed Plane

Voice recordings retrieved from the wreckage of the Germanwings plane that crashed on Tuesday suggest that one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit and then tried to break down the door to gain entry minutes before it hit Alpine slopes in southern France.

Agence France Presse and the New York Times quote an unnamed investigator who describes the sounds heard from the plane cockpit. The official describes hearing a chair being pushed back and the door opening and closing. Then knocking is heard.

The investigator told the New York Times: “The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer. And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer. You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”

Germanwings said in a statement that at the moment, “we do not have information from competent authorities to confirm this story. We are doing everything to get the most information possible and we are not engaging in speculation.”

After the attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, airlines, cockpit doors were strengthened and altered so they could only be opened from the inside.

The focus of the investigation will include the character and health of the pilots. Aviation experts told AFP: “If the pilots did not stop the airplane from flying into the mountains, it is because they were unconscious or dead, or they had decided to die, or they were forced to die.”

With Europe in shock at the crash, the leaders of the countries most affected, French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy landed by helicopter in the tiny village of Seyne-Les-Alpes on Wednesday, the base for rescue teams scouring the Alpine slopes. Hollande later told reporters that there had been “not the slightest possibility of saving anyone, because there were no survivors.” After flying over the area, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was “a picture of horror.”

Rescue teams face daunting logistical tasks working on steep mountain slopes, far from the narrow twisting roads that wind through the Alps. Many have been dropped from helicopters and then roped together for safety as they pick their way through debris to collect body parts of the victims.

Germanwings flight 9525, which crashed midway from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, had six crew and 144 passengers from about 15 different countries, mostly from Germany and Spain. Among the dead were 16 teenagers from a small German town called Haltern, who were flying home from a week’s school exchange program in Barcelona. One of their teachers had just got married. Also aboard were two Americans, and three generations of one Spanish family. “We are in a state of shock and grief and mourning,” Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann told reporters, adding that some crew members were too distraught to work.

Then there is the job of identifying the bodies. Police told Hollande, Merkel and Rajoy that they were designing a system to transport the remains off the mountain for DNA identification, probably in Marseille.

The voice recordings may have added important clues to what happened to the plane, an Airbus A320, one of the European manufacturer’s best-selling models. It was in seemingly good condition — Germanwings said it was inspected the day before the crash. It lost control at cruising altitude of about 36,000 feet, rather than on takeoff or landing, as is the case in many plane crashes and the pilots did not send out a distress call before the plane slammed into the mountain. Complicating the investigation, the plane obliterated on impact. “When we go to a crash site we expect to find part of the fuselage, but here we see nothing at all,” Xavier Roy, the pilot coordinating air operations, told Reuters.

Rescue teams found the cockpit voice recorder, one of the two so-called black boxes, on Tuesday, badly dented and twisted in the impact. Jouty, the air-safety director, told reporters that there were human voices on the recording, yet they did yet not know whose they were.

The recording helps explain what happened between 10.30 a.m. and 10.32 a.m. That is when the two pilots lost radio contact with control towers in southern France. A local traffic controller sent a “loss of radio contact” distress signal at 10:47 a.m., saying the pilots had not answered several calls, Le Monde reported on Wednesday. A few minutes after that, the plane crashed.

In understanding what happened, officials will try interpret even the silences on the voice recorder — perhaps clues about whether the pilots were somehow incapacitated, or whether the engines were running normally. “Even if there is no conversation in the last half hour, we can then work on the sounds inside the cockpit,” French Transportation Minister Alain Vidalies told Europe1 radio on Wednesday.

With France still deeply on edge after a spate of terror attacks in Paris in January killed 17 people, French officials tried to assure people that terrorism seemed a highly unlikely cause for Tuesday’s crash, in part because the plane did not explode in the air. Still, the French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told the RTL network, “all hypotheses must be considered, as long as the investigation has not yielded any results.”

Read next: Germanwings Flights Disrupted as Some Crew Refuse to Fly After Crash

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME ebola

The Red Cross: ‘Ebola Started In Silence and Will End With Our Words’

Leaders of the Red Cross reflect on the year of Ebola

A year ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the mysterious disease that had earlier swept through the tiny village of Meliandou, in Guinea’s southern forested region, had been identified as a “rapidly evolving outbreak” of Ebola, affecting several districts of the country and its capital, Conakry.

Suspected cases were also being investigated in border areas of neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Ebola had started to become an emergency.

Last month, our thoughts turned to another place in Guinea: the town of Forécariah at the other end of the country, in the west. Two Red Cross volunteers had been attacked there while attempting to provide “safe and dignified burials.”

Probably the single most-important factor in driving down cases over the past year has been a reduction in unsafe burial practices in which the still-contagious bodies of the deceased are handled by bereaved relatives. Unsafe practices still continue, however, in many places.

In Guinea, Red Cross personnel have faced an average of ten verbal or physical assaults a month; Liberia and Sierra Leone have also reported some form of “refusal to comply” with public-health measures.

Our words, our actions

In the Ebola hotspot of Kono, Sierra Leone, and according to local data, many communities still prefer traditional funerals to safer alternatives.

Most medical equipment we need to stop the outbreak is now in place, and yet new cases are still occurring, particularly in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

We need more than just medical hardware to get to zero cases. Now our words must pave the way to the last mile.

Words to break the stigma against healthcare workers and survivors, words to educate communities on prevention, words of solidarity from all over the world to say to affected people and communities: We won’t let you down, and together we can end Ebola.

We are trying to change behaviors and practices, and learning along the way that the transmission of knowledge is not enough.

Let’s use the power of words to repair misconceptions, promote dialogue, heal, reconcile and engage to overcome resistance, facilitate behavioural change, and ultimately get us to zero new cases.

Let’s do it fast: the rainy season will soon be upon us, and some areas could become very difficult to access. There is still work to do, and time is of the essence.

Adapting our response

We will not just treat our way out of this disease.

In Liberia, most people – local data suggests as many as 70 percent – believe all that’s required to ward off Ebola is to refrain from eating bush meat, rather than avoiding contact with the bodily fluids of patients.

In one district surveyed by the Red Cross in Sierra Leone, 90 percent believed this, although nationwide there has been a significant increase in safe burials.

It’s easy to imagine how health-workers in full protective garb, looking like creatures from a nightmare, spraying homes with foul-smelling chlorine, might appear to isolated villagers.

There has also been miscommunication. The black body bags our volunteers and staff were using in some communities were rejected by bereaved people for whom tradition dictates that bodies should be wrapped in white, signifying respect – a vitally important word in the context of funeral rites.

We may not have listened quite as carefully to local people as we should have at the beginning. The black bags were replaced with white ones.

Walking the right path

On the Ebola response overall, the road is forking. Down one path – characterized by sustained international solidarity and yet further heroism by local volunteers and health workers – lie zero cases, stronger health systems, and eventual recovery from the wounds Ebola has inflicted on human societies.

But if complacency or fatigue marks the other path, we may find ourselves dealing with a silent disaster that will threaten the gains already made as well as recovery.

We in the Red Cross Red Crescent warn that complacency is the enemy; but we believe we are not helpless in the face of Ebola. Our words and our actions will make a difference. They will pave the last mile back to trust and resilience.

Elhadj As Sy is Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, responding to Ebola in 16 African nations; Yves Daccord is General Director of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has long been present in the region, particular Liberia and Guinea, due to past conflicts.

TIME Tunisia

Watch the Moments Before the Tunisia Museum Attack

Tourists flee when they hear gunshots

A tourist has released a video showing the moments before the attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunisia last week. The video, taken by Italian tourist Maria Tira Gelotti, shows a group of tourists exploring the museum in Tunisia’s capital Tunis when they hear gunshots and realize it is under attack.

“Did they shoot? Did they shoot?” a woman asks in Italian. The group flees when they hear a second round of automatic gunfire.

The attack killed 20 tourists. At least two gunmen opened fire after getting off buses at the museum inside the parliament compound. Both were later shot dead by police, and authorities say they are still searching for a third suspect.

The Bardo Museum held a ceremonial reopening Tuesday.

[NBC]

Read next: Deadly Museum Attack Highlights Tunisia’s Internal Struggles

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME conflict

Yemen’s President Flees Country by Sea Amid Rebel Advance

Armed Yemeni militiamen loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, also known as the Popular Resistance Committees, gather at the entrance Yemeni special forces command in the southern city of Aden on March 19, 2015.
AFP/Getty Images Armed Yemeni militiamen loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, also known as the Popular Resistance Committees, gather at the entrance Yemeni special forces command in the southern city of Aden on March 19, 2015.

Officials would not disclose President Hadi's destination

(SANAA, Yemen) — Yemeni security and port officials say that President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has left the country by sea, on a boat from the port of Aden, as Shiite rebels and their allies advance on this southern city.

The officials told The Associated Press that Hadi left with his aides after 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The entourage departed by two boats, under heavy security. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

They would not disclose Hadi’s destination. Yemen’s embattled president is scheduled to attend an Arab Summit in Egypt on the weekend.

Hadi’s escape from Yemen comes as the rebels known as the Houthis are closing in on Aden and the city’s fall appears imminent.

TIME ebola

Ebola Vaccine Trial Starts in Guinea

A health worker prepares a vaccination on March 10, 2015 at a health center in Conakry during the first clinical trials of the VSV-EBOV vaccine against the Ebola virus.
CELLOU BINANI Cellou Binani—AFP/Getty A health worker prepares a vaccination on March 10, 2015 at a health center in Conakry during the first clinical trials of the VSV-EBOV vaccine against the Ebola virus.

10,000 people will be vaccinated

An efficacy trial for an Ebola vaccine launched in Guinea on Wednesday.

The vaccine, VSV-EBOV, was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and has already shown positive results in smaller safety trials. NewLink Genetics and Merck are collaborating on the vaccine, and the Guinean government and World Health Organization (WHO) are leading the trial, which is taking place in Basse-Guinée, a community where many Ebola cases spread.

MORE: 14 Emotional Dispatches From Key Ebola Fighters

The trial is using what’s called a “ring vaccination” strategy, which means that when a person is infected with Ebola, a group, or ring, of their contacts will be vaccinated. Some of the contacts will be vaccinated immediately, and some will be vaccinated three weeks later. The format was chosen so that everyone could get the vaccine, instead of giving some people a placebo. The hope is that the people who are vaccinated will create a “ring of immunity” from the virus, which could prevent its spread. Similar strategies have been used for smallpox, according to the WHO.

The trial plans to vaccinate 10,000 people in 190 rings in the next six to eight weeks, and all of those vaccinated will be followed for three months. The trial is voluntary, and researchers estimate that results may be available in July.

“We are committed to ending this epidemic,” said Dr. Sakoba Keita, the national coordinator of the Ebola fight in Guinea, in a statement. “Combined with control measures that we are putting in place with our partners, a safe and effective vaccine will allow us to close this trying chapter and start rebuilding our country.”

A total of 3,429 people have been infected with Ebola in Guinea, and 2,263 have died. The country recently experienced an uptick in cases.

TIME conflict

Boko Haram Kidnaps Hundreds of Nigerian Civilians, Official Says

The Islamic rebels went to Damasak's primary schools and rounded up students and teachers

(ABUJA, Nigeria) — Hundreds of civilians, including many children, have been kidnapped and are being used as human shields by Boko Haram extremists, a top Nigerian official confirmed Wednesday.

Several hundred people were abducted by the Islamic militants as they retreated earlier this month from Damasak in northeastern Nigeria, Mike Omeri, the Nigerian spokesman for the fight against Boko Haram, told The Associated Press Wednesday. He said he could not specify how many were kidnapped but local reports say as many as 500 people were taken.

The Islamic rebels went to Damasak’s primary schools and rounded up students and teachers and then retreated, said Omeri.

Troops from Chad and Niger recaptured Damasak, near the border with Niger, from Boko Haram on March 16. The mass kidnapping happened as the extremists were fleeing the advancing troops and information about the abductions has only been confirmed now.

The soldiers who recaptured Damasak found the town largely deserted. Damasak had been held for months by Boko Haram, who used the trading town as an administrative center.

The troops from Chad and Niger who now hold Damasak have discovered evidence of a mass grave, Chad’s ambassador to the U.N. Mahamat Zene Cherif confirmed Wednesday.

International assistance is needed for the thousands of Nigerian refugees who have fled the violence, said the head of the U.N. refugee agency.

Some 74,000 Nigerians have fled to neighboring Cameroon, according to the agency. Over 100,000 more have flooded into Chad and Niger. Troops from the three countries are now helping Nigeria to combat the militants and win back Nigerian towns.

The refugee agency will funnel more resources to Cameroon, said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on Wednesday while visiting Maroua, the capital of Cameroon’s Far North region. He stressed that additional assistance is needed.

“Cameroon is today not only a very important protection space for refugees, but it is in the first line of defense of the international community,” he said.

The U.N. agency says the Nigerian crisis is one of the most underfunded in the world. In February, the agency asked for $71 million to assist displaced people in Nigeria and neighboring countries; already that figure appears to be too low, it said this week. Thus far, it has received only $6.8 million in donations, he said.

___

Moki contributed to this report from Maroua, Cameroon. AP writer Cara Anna contributed from the United Nations.

TIME Television

Jeremy Clarkson Ditched by BBC Over Attack on Producer

Jeremy Clarkson in London in 2012.
Ian Gavan — Getty Images Jeremy Clarkson in London in 2012.

"Oisin Tymon was subject to an unprovoked physical and verbal attack by Jeremy Clarkson"

After two weeks in limbo, the BBC have announced that they’re officially dropping Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson.

The 54-year-old auto journalist and presenter was suspended after he allegedly tried to punch a producer, which the BBC originally dubbed a “fracas.” The broadcaster announced Clarkson’s suspension in a statement on Mar. 11, saying: “Following a fracas with a BBC producer, Jeremy Clarkson has been suspended pending an investigation. No one else has been suspended.”

It quickly emerged that Clarkson struck the Top Gear producer, Oisin Tymon, after filming in a Yorkshire hotel and learning he wouldn’t be served a hot steak meal — though the BBC didn’t initially define “fracas.”

Following an internal investigation led by the director of BBC Scotland Ken MacQuarrie, the broadcaster found that producer “Oisin Tymon was subject to an unprovoked physical and verbal attack by Jeremy Clarkson. During the physical attack Oisin Tymon was struck, resulting in swelling and bleeding to his lip. The verbal abuse was sustained over a longer period, both at the time of the physical attack and subsequently.” The report also stressed that Tymon “offered no retaliation” and was the victim “through no fault of his own.”

The BBC’s director general Tony Hall announced on Wednesday that Clarkson’s contract would not be renewed, “marking the end of his time as Top Gear presenter.” (Clarkson’s contract was due to end at the end of the month.) Hall also said that the organization had “not taken this decision lightly,” but “a line has been crossed” and he could not “condone what has happened on this occasion.”

As rumors of Clarkson’s firing began to swirl, so did rumors of his possible replacement though no one has officially been announced. It’s also unclear what will happen to Clarkson’s co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May, whose contracts were also up at the end of March, though Hall did indicate that the BBC would be attempting to renew Top Gear for the 2016 season.

This isn’t the first time that Clarkson has found himself at the center of a controversy and in 2014 the BBC gave the presenter a final warning after unused Top Gear footage, found by the Daily Mirror, appeared to show Clarkson use the N-word.

Read More: Six Times The BBC Should Have Suspended Jeremy Clarkson But Didn’t

Yet Clarkson has plenty of people in his corner. The series has a huge following, largely thanks to Clarkson’s often offensive humor and disdain for political correctness. Shortly after he was suspended, an online petition clamoring for Clarkson’s return to Top Gear cropped up and has more than a million signatures.

Even political leaders spoke out in his defense: the U.K.’s prime minister, David Cameron, told the BBC in an on-air interview that Clarkson was a friend and “because he is such a talent and he amuses and entertains so many people, including my children, who’d be heartbroken if Top Gear was taken off air, I hope this can be sorted out, because it’s a great programme and he’s a great talent.” He later told an interviewer that his daughter had even threatened to go on a hunger strike if Clarkson wasn’t reinstated.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Hall also noted Clarkson’s popularity, adding, “Jeremy is a huge talent. He may be leaving the BBC but I am sure he will continue to entertain, challenge and amuse audiences for many years to come.”

TIME Vatican

Read Pope Francis’ Message to the French Alps Crash Victims’ Families

Pope Francis speaks during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 25, 2015.
Andrew Medichini—AP Pope Francis speaks during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 25, 2015.

The Pope "prays for peace" for those killed on the Germanwings flight

Pope Francis wants to give “strength and consolation” to the families of the victims of Tuesday’s deadly Germanwings plane crash in the French Alps.

“He expresses his deep sympathy for all those touched by this tragedy, as well as for the rescue workers working in difficult conditions,” reads a Tuesday telegram from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. A memorial mass for all the victims was also held on Tuesday.

A hundred and fifty people “including many children,” the telegram notes, appear to have been killed when a Germanwings A320 Airbus crashed in a snowy region of the French Alps. More than a dozen passengers were German school children returning from an exchange-program trip in Spain.

The full statement, via Vatican Radio, reads:

“Having learned of the tragic plane crash in the region of Digne, which caused many casualties, including many children, His Holiness Pope Francis joins in the grief of the families, expressing his closeness to them in sorrow. He prays for peace for the deceased, entrusting them to the mercy of God that He might welcome them into His dwelling place of peace and light. He expresses his deep sympathy for all those touched by this tragedy, as well as for the rescue workers working in difficult conditions. The Holy Father asks the Lord to give strength and consolation to all, and, as a comfort, he invokes upon them the abundance of divine Blessings.”

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com