Germanwings crash: Students, singers among the victims

Story highlights

NEW: Sister of Iranian sports journalist: "He is now the king of the Alps"

The victims came from at least 18 nations, including Germany and Spain

The victims include a mother and daughter from northern Virginia

CNN  — 

They were high school exchange students, heading home after a week in Spain. Opera singers fresh off a show in Barcelona. An architect from Colombia who’d gone across the Atlantic to work in Africa. An Australian nurse on vacation with her son.

While authorities haven’t identified any bodies or definitively ruled out a miracle, the presumption is that all 144 passengers and six crew members aboard Tuesday’s Germanwings Flight 9525 died when their plane crashed in the French Alps.

They were sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. And they came from all around the world – at least 18 countries, according to Germanwings CEO Thomas Winkelmann.

The precise numbers from each country haven’t been pinned down, with the nationalities of some still not accounted for and the possibility that some may hold dual citizenships.

Still, Winkelmann did provide a snapshot on Wednesday, listing Germany (72 people on board) and Spain (35 people) as the countries with the most citizens on the flight. (Francisco Martinez, a top Spanish security official, said a short time later that 49 Spaniards were on the crashed plane.)

The rest are from an assortment of countries. That includes two each from Australia, Argentina, Iran, the United States and Venezuela, according to the Germanwings CEO. Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Israel, Mexico, Japan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom had one passenger apiece, said Winkelmann. Still, some governments gave different totals – like the three British nationals, three Americans, two Colombians and three Argentines reported by their respective foreign ministries and, in Argentina’s case, its state-run news agency. The foreign ministry of Chile reported one victim from its country.

Some of their relatives gathered at Barcelona’s airport, where medics and psychologists were available to help them. A chapel was set up near the crash site. Many more mourned in living rooms, churches and elsewhere.

“We already planned things (that) we were going to do when they returned,” said Philippa, who attended the same school in Haltern, Germany, as 16 students and two teachers on Flight 9525. “… It’s very hard to believe that we cannot do that.”

Mother, daughter from Virginia among passengers

Yvonne Selke and her daughter, Emily, were a long way from their home in Nokesville, Virginia, about 40 miles southwest of Washington, according to the State Department.

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

Emily Selke belonged to Gamma Sigma Sigma’s Zeta chapter at Drexel University. She was a membership vice president while at the sorority and “an integral part of our growing chapter,” according to the chapter’s Facebook page.

“She embodied the spirit of Gamma Sigma Sigma,” the sorority 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.”

A music industry major, Emily Selke graduated with honors from the Philadelphia university, according to the school. She then went on to work around Washington for Carr Workplaces, a company that offers office space, meeting rooms and virtual offices, company spokesman Robert Beach told CNN.

“We cherished Emily’s work ethic, enthusiasm, humor, and overall presence,” said Beach, calling her “dedicated, helpful, and always willing to go the extra mile.”

“Her genuine, bright smile and quick wit will be missed,” he added.

Yvonne Selke worked for Booz Allen Hamilton. Betty Thompson, a vice president with that consulting firm, described Yvonne Selke as “a wonderful co-worker and a dedicated employee” in a statement to The Washington Post.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday that three Americans were on the plane. The identity of the third person was not immediately known.

Two Iranian journalists: ‘Your in the sky where your soul will go’

Milad Eslami was an Iranian sports journalist who’d been in Spain to cover a game between Barcelona and Real Madrid, his favorite team. His uncle, Dawud Tawakoli, said Eslami was an outstanding journalist because “he worked with his heart.”

Family members, including his sister, Mahshid Eslami, came to France to be close to the crash site. She said he loved flying.

“He … said to one of his friends, ‘If someone is killed in a crash it would be OK because it is for one minute and it will be gone and you’re in the sky where your soul will go,’ ” she said.

The plane crashed in the French Alps. When the beauty of that area was described to her, she said, “Everything is great for him. Not for us. We just can calm ourselves with the picture that he is now the king of the Alps.”

Another Iranian sports journalist, Hossein Javadi, also died on the crash. He was Milad Eslami’s friend and had also covered the soccer match.

German headmaster: ‘Our school has now changed totally’

Given Germanwings’ name and its base in Cologne, it’s no surprise that so many of the victims – about half – are from Germany.

That’s especially the case in Haltern, a town about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Dusseldorf. Sixteen students and two young teachers from Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium school had left Haltern eight days ago for Llinars del Valles, a Spanish town about 25 miles northeast of Barcelona.

Headmaster Ulrich Wessel said he and others first hoped the students and teachers, who his school has named, had missed their intended flight and taken another one. Then they were told that all 18 had been on the Flight 9525 passenger list.

That fact has “changed totally” everything for Haltern’s more than 1,200 students, he added.

“Many students can’t really understand what happened. These were their friends,” Wessel said. “… I’m speechless.”

The students should have been looking forward to the summer and, eventually, to attending university. The teachers – one of whom had just gotten married – had their own long lives ahead of them as well.

Their loss has shaken not just Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium, but all of Haltern.

“The whole city is shocked, and we can feel it everywhere,” Mayor Bodo Klimpel said. “This is the worst, what happened.”

‘The lyrical family is in mourning’ over loss of singers

“Siegfried” is a classic German opera, created by one of its greats, Richard Wagner. It tells the story of Siegfried, a proud orphan who slays a dragon and finds love with the Earth goddess Erda.

It makes sense, then, that two German singers – Oleg Bryjak and Maria Radner – would be invited to Barcelona to perform at the city’s Gran Teatre del Liceu.

According to the theater’s Facebook page, the pair had just performed in “Siegfried” in Barcelona. Bryjak played Alberich, the brother of the dwarf who raised Siegfried. And Radner was Erda.

Both had successful careers and full lives beyond this one production.

In addition to her flourishing career, Radner had a husband and child – both of whom presumably died with her on the Germanwings flight, according to New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Radner debuted at the Met in 2012 in “Gotterdammerung,” another opera by Wagner.

“Maria was a gifted artist who touched the lives of many Met company members during her time with us,” the Met said in a statement.

Many in Dusseldorf’s Deutsche Oper am Rhein ensemble were shocked when that opera’s artistic director, Stephen Harrison, relayed the news about Bryjak, who had been part of the ensemble since 1996.

“Such a terrible and sudden loss, one doesn’t know how to deal with it,” Harrison said.

Bryjak, a bass baritone, could excel in serious roles but always kept his sense of humor and never failed to be kind and giving to others, he said.

“He was an incredibly warmhearted and generous artist and friend,” said Harrison.

The Gran Teatre del Liceu put its flags at half-staff and held two minutes of silence for the late singers.

“The lyrical family is in mourning,” tweeted the theater’s artistic director, Christina Scheppelmann, who is herself of German descent. “But we are not alone.”

A Colombian architect, economist, and Iranian sports reporters

While Winkelmann – who admitted his information wasn’t complete and could change – said that one Colombian was on board, the South American nation’s Foreign Ministry said two of its citizens took that ill-fated flight.

One of them was 36-year-old Luis Eduardo Medrano. The architect leaves behind his parents and two brothers, according to the Fundacion Universitaria de Popayan, where he had studied.

He also leaves a legacy behind in the African nation of Equatorial Guinea, where he’d been working with the engineering company Atland Global, according to an interview he gave his university.

The other Colombian victim is María del Pilar Tejada, a 33-year-old economist.

Tejada lived in Germany, working to earn her doctorate at the University of Cologne, Colombia’s Caracol Radio reported. She’d gone to Barcelona to visit her husband.

Australian mother and son vacationing in Europe

Those on the Germanwings flight included people traveling for business and to catch up with friends and loved ones. There were also some who were flying around Europe for fun on vacation.

People like Carol Friday and her son Greig, two Australians believed killed in the crash, according to that country’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Carol Friday, who turned 68 the day before the crash, was a midwife and registered nurse who most recently worked for the city of Casey, near Melbourne, the family said in a statement released through Australia’s government. Her 29-year-old son, Greig Friday, “was a loving son to Carol and Dave and an exceptional brother to his sister Alex.”

“Our family is in deep disbelief and crippled with sadness,” the family said.

Mother of hospitality student: ‘He was my world’

Paul Andrew Bramley, a native of the English city of Hull, just finished his first year studying hospitality and management at Cesar Ritz Colleges in Switzerland. He’d spent a few days with friends in Barcelona before heading to the airport to return to the United Kingdom via Dusseldorf. And he was about to start an internship next week.

His parents, including his father back in Hull, are now left trying to make sense of what happened.

“Paul was a kind, caring and loving son,” said his mother, Carol Bramley, who’d flown from her current home in Majorca to the United Kingdom to meet up with her son. “He was the best son. He was my world.”

The British Foreign Office released statements from two other families that had loved ones on board.

Martyn Matthews, 50, was a senior quality manager from Wolverhampton. His family asked for privacy.

Marina Bandres Lopez-Belio, 37, and her 7-month-old son, Julian Pracz-Bandres, were also among the victims.

Her husband said they had been visiting her family in Spain for her uncle’s funeral. She worked as an editor and colorist in post-production for film and video.

“She bought the tickets at the last moment, and decided to return to Manchester quickly as she wanted to return to her daily routine as soon as possible,” said Pawel Pracz, who is with family in Manchester and in close contact with others in Spain. “We are devastated.”

Mother, daughter among 3 American victims

CNN’s Justin Lear, Karl Penhaul, Elwyn Lopez, Michael Roa, Brooke Bowman, Yoko Wakatsuki, Vasco Cotovio, Mary Kay Mallonee, Allison Malloy, Steve Forrest and Deanna Hackney contributed to this report.