GERMAN fifth-formers from the Joseph König high school in Haltern am See, near Düsseldorf, have returned to Barcelona a year after the air crash which killed their class group and two teachers.
The school has been taking part in an exchange programme with the high school in Llinars del Vallès (Barcelona) for over 15 years, but the last one was to end in tragedy when suicidal co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked the captain out of the cockpit and deliberately crashed Germanwings flight 9525 into the French Alpes, killing himself, the pilot, four crew members and 144 passengers.
The plane was shredded, and not only were there no survivors, but not one of the bodies was still intact.
It has later come to light that a psychiatrist had recommended Lubitz, 28, be admitted to a mental health ward just two weeks before the crash, although the disturbed young co-pilot hid his medical notes, including sick notes signing him off work.
His depression stemmed from knowing his career dream of becoming a long-haul pilot on the parent company airline, Lufthansa, may be scuppered because of a detached retina.
A final report on the crash has called for ongoing psychiatric examinations of all pilots, and to ensure that there is no threat to their jobs even if they are not allowed to fly for a time because of being considered a possible suicide risk.
Pilots explained after the crash cause was revealed that it was possible those with depression-related illnesses would not admit to their condition in case it cost them their jobs, especially where they were on zero-hours contracts.
Now, however, 15 days before the anniversary of the crash, the class below the students who perished are now in fifth form and taking part in the Spanish exchange trip.
Far from being afraid lightning may strike twice, the Giola secondary school in Llinars del Vallès says more German teens than ever have come over this time around – a total of 23 rather than last year's 16.
But to avoid tempting providence, the Joseph König school arranged for the students and their two accompanying teachers to fly from Cologne, rather than Düsseldorf.
The young Germans got off the bus from Barcelona airport at the school and immediately visited the same classrooms their older colleagues had sat in the year before – and received a heroes' welcome from headmistress Sílvia Genís and the Giola fifth-formers.
The visitors were shown to the 'Paseo de los Alemanes' – the 'German Boulevard' – an avenue of 16 cherry trees, once for each student, and two cypress trees, representing their teachers, who had lost their lives in the air crash.
The trees had been planted last year by the pupils who hosted the deceased students in their homes for a week, and was officially unveiled when their younger schoolmates arrived.
Joseph König's headmaster Ulrich Wessel joined the ceremony, where he admitted that 'the scars were very deep' and 'even more so' now that the anniversary is coming up.
On the other side of Europe, Llinars del Vallès' mayor Martí Pujol said the news of the students' and teachers' deaths had 'deeply affected' the town.
“They will always be here with us, and will always be remembered, even if we cannot bring them back to life,” he admitted.