A mother and daughter from Prince William County were among three Americans who perished when an Airbus jet plunged into a frozen ridge in the French Alps this week, officials said Wednesday.
Yvonne Selke, a longtime government contractor, and Emily Selke, a recent graduate of Drexel University, died Tuesday along with 148 others on the Germanwings flight from Spain to Germany.
Raymond Selke said he was too distraught to discuss the lives of his wife and daughter or why they were aboard the flight, but the family released a brief statement asking for time to heal.
“Our entire family is deeply saddened by the losses of Yvonne and Emily Selke,” the statement read. “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 mystery of why the plane plunged from its flight path endured Wednesday, even as top leaders from Europe monitored the investigation of the crash and recovery efforts continued near the southern French town of Seyne-les-Alpes.
France’s president was joined by the leaders of Germany and Spain in an Alpine pasture now used as a base for experts seeking to unravel what led to the crash. The three, walking side by side, were briefed on the grim recovery efforts in the snowbound French mountains.
Earlier in the day, one of the flight recorders — or black boxes — was recovered in a damaged state amid the wide debris field. The Associated Press reported that French investigators cracked open the black box and retrieved some audio from its cockpit voice recorder by Wednesday afternoon, hoping to gain their first insights into the possible causes of the crash.
Remi Jouty, director of the French aviation investigative agency, said the audio included sounds and voices. He said it was too early to draw any conclusions from the recorder. French President François Hollande, meanwhile, said the case for the second black box, the flight data recorder, had been found but not its contents, according to the AP.
In the D.C. area, family, friends and co-workers of the Selkes reacted with shock and grief to their deaths. Yvonne Selke was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton for nearly 23 years, according to the company. She was working on a contract with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
“Yvonne was a wonderful co-worker and a dedicated employee,” Betty Thompson, an executive vice president, wrote in a statement. “We are in contact with her family to provide comfort and support, and are providing support options to her co-workers, as well.”
One former classmate said Yvonne Selke had kept in touch with some friends from the Class of 1975 at Springfield High School and had planned to attend their 40th reunion.
Emily Selke graduated with honors from Drexel University in Philadelphia in 2013, according to the school. She majored in music industry in the school’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design.
An online résumé listed her as a community manager for an Alexandria firm that offers working space for professionals and a lifetime Girl Scout. The Drexel University Gamma Sigma Sigma chapter posted a message on Facebook saying Selke served as vice president of the service sorority.
Drexel professor Xela Batchelder said Selke became involved in an effort to start a local theater and music festival in Pittsburgh. Selke was interested in a career in the music industry, Batchelder said, and took classes on festival and entertainment management.
“What I really liked about her is that she knew what she wanted to do,” Batchelder said. “She took all these extra opportunities that weren’t required to learn more about festival management. She was a good self-starter.”
Batchelder said Selke went on a study-abroad trip to Edinburgh to take part in the city’s popular fringe festival. Batchelder said that Yvonne Selke joined her daughter for the Scotland trip and that the pair adored each other.
Taylor Miller, 21, said Emily Selke was well known at Woodbridge Senior High, where she graduated summa cum laude in 2010. Miller said Selke was a choir singer with a sweet-sounding voice and a writer whose words flowed off the page. Miller said that her creative-writing classmate stunned other students to silence when Selke read her work aloud.
“Everybody would just melt with what she wrote,” said Miller, of Keyser, W.Va.
Miller said Selke could be wickedly sarcastic with her humor, then wow friends a moment later with her kindness.
“She was the most open-minded, nicest person,” Miller said. “She didn’t care if you were a jock or an introvert. She wanted to get to know you. That’s why everyone gravitated to Emily — because she wanted to be around you, and people wanted to be around her.”
Miller said she once visited the Selkes’ Nokesville home and was blown away by the family’s idyllic cul-de-sac.
“She had the perfect life,” Miller said. “She had a nice house, nice clothes. But she was so humble. It didn’t matter who you were. She was always polite and kind.”
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told France’s RTL radio that all theories about what might have caused the crash must be explored but that a terrorist attack was not the most likely scenario.
Bundled against strong winds, Hollande thanked the teams leading the efforts to reach the crash site by helicopter and by foot. He was accompanied by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Meanwhile, the human toll of the crash became clearer. Those lost included two babies, two opera singers, a pair of Iranian journalists, an Australian mother and her adult son vacationing together, and 16 German 10th-graders and their teachers returning from an exchange trip.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed the Selkes’ deaths but did not identify the third American victim. Most of the other dead were from Germany and Spain. She said U.S. officials were reviewing records to determine whether other Americans were on the flight as the recovery for bodies began. “We are in contact with family members and we extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the 150 people on board,” Psaki said in a statement.
Kirchner reported from Haltern, Germany. Daniela Deane in London and Jennifer Jenkins and Victoria St. Martin in Washington contributed to this report.