Andreas Lubitz, the 28-year-old German co-pilot of flight 4U 9525 that crashed in the French Alps killing all 150 onboard, had deliberately sent the Airbus into its fatal descent. Evidence from a cockpit voice recorder indicates that when the captain went to use the toilet, the co-pilot had locked himself in the cockpit, refused to re-open the door, took sole control of the aircraft, and flew it into the French Alps intending to destroy it.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 26, 2015
The disaster is believed to be a case of pilot suicide and mass murder by Lubitz, who had joined the airline in 2013 with 630 hours of flying experience. Other possibilities remain, however. Was Lubitz incapacitated by a sudden event like a fire or a drop in cabin pressure? Was it an act of terrorism?
Brice Robin, the chief Marseille prosecutor handling the investigation into the crash of a Germanwings jetliner, said, “At this moment, in light of investigation, the interpretation we can give at this time is that the co-pilot through voluntary abstention refused to open the door of the cockpit to the commander, and activated the button that commands the loss of altitude”.
“There were no grounds to suspect that Lubitz was carrying out a terrorist attack. Suicide was also the wrong word to describe actions which killed so many other people. I don’t necessarily call it suicide when you have responsibility for 100 or so lives,” Robin added.
One of the plane’s black boxes suggests that the descent from 38,000 feet over about 10 minutes was alarming yet gradual. There was absolutely no communication from the cockpit to air traffic controllers, nor any signal of an emergency during the fatal descent.
There was panic in the cabin, but Lubitz was breathing normally; and then he slammed the plane into the mountains. The sound of the captain attempting to smash the door down, as well as screaming from passengers, can be heard on the cockpit flight recorder.
Lufthansa CEO, Carsten Spohr, is ‘stunned’ by the allegation that the co-pilot had intentionally caused the crash. “We choose our staff very, very carefully. The airline had no indication of why the co-pilot would have crashed the plane. Pilots undergo yearly medical examination but that doesn’t include psychological tests,” he told a news conference in Cologne, Germany.
Cockpit doors can be opened from the outside with a code, but the code can be overridden from inside the cockpit. Spohr said that either the pilot had entered the code incorrectly or the co-pilot inside had overridden it.
Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that German authorities had checked intelligence and police databases on the day of the crash, and Lufthansa told them that regular security checks had also turned up nothing untoward on the co-pilot.
“No system in the world can rule out such an isolated event. I have worked at Lufthansa as an engineer, I have worked as a pilot at Lufthansa, I have carried responsibility as a manager at Lufthansa for many, many years. Always, wherever I was, whoever my boss was, the rule was always safety is No. 1. And that this has happened to us — I can only say we are sorry,” Spohr added.