Germanwings co-pilot appears to have crashed plane deliberately – prosecutor

Reuters / Ina Fassbender
The Germanwings co-pilot seemed to have crashed the plane deliberately, killing 150 people on board. The co-pilot wouldn’t let the captain inside the cabin, with the “intension to destroy” the jet, the French prosecutor said at a press conference.

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The Germanwings co-pilot was identified as Andreas Lubitz.

The captain was between 30 and 40 years old, fully qualified, had 10,000 hours of flight, and had worked with Lufthansa for 10 years, while the co-pilot was 28, and commenced working for Lufthansa in 2013.

READ MORE: 'A boy like so many others': Shocked reactions from those who knew Germanwings co-pilot

Prosecutor Brice Robin provided the explanation he thought the most likely, judging by the transcript of the black box recording of the last 30 minutes in the cockpit before the crash.

The captain left the cockpit to go to the toilet, asking the co-pilot to take over. Then the co-pilot accelerated the plane’s descent, likely voluntarily, the prosecutor said.

Someone attempted to break open the door to the cockpit from the outside, he added.

Afterwards, demands for the co-pilot to open the door are heard, and the captain “desperately” bangs on the door, but the co-pilot refuses to open it.

On the recording, there is the sound of the co-pilot breathing “normally” and “not uttering a single word” until the plane crashes, the prosecutor said.

The recording suggested that passengers began screaming just before the final impact.

Services on the ground didn’t receive any distress signals from the A320 before the crash, despite several attempts to contact the aircraft.

The prosecutor said that there are no grounds to regard the crash as a terrorist act.

Robin said that there is a case for premeditated murder to answer as the co-pilot was responsible for the lives of the passengers and crew onboard.

Germanwings wrote on its Twitter page on Thursday that it was shocked by the prosecutor’s statement.

The co-pilot accused of deliberately crashing the plane had passed all the necessary medical tests and was “100 percent” fit to fly, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told a press conference.

However, he added that pilots do not undergo regular psychological assessments beyond training.

“We have no words,” he said. “We never thought that this could happen to our concern. We are very attentive to recruitment. We pay great attention, including to the psychological characteristics of our candidates.”

Lubitz started his pilot’s training in 2008 and started work at the airline in 2013, Spohr said. He had a pause in his training six years ago, Spohr added, without offering further explanation.

"No matter your safety regulations, no matter how high you set the bar, and we have incredibly high standards, there is no way to rule out such an event," Spohr said. "This is an awful one-off event."

Speaking on the safety regulations, Spohr said that if one of the pilots leaves the flight deck, upon reentering he can use a special code to signal his colleague inside to open the deck door. This code is also used if the pilot inside loses consciousness, he added. However, the person on the flight deck can also prevent someone from entering with a code by clocking the door by pushing a special button.

The Lufthansa CEO added that the co-pilot had permission to stay on the deck alone under the airline’s regulations. This stands in contrast to the practice of most US airlines, under which another crewmember is required to enter the cabin if one of the pilots leaves.

It is not yet known if the company is legally responsible for the crash. The prosecution is set to give information on that later.

Following the news, airlines including Norwegian Air Shuttle, Britain's easyJet, Air Canada, and Air Berlin all announced that they are adopting a new rule requiring two crew members to always be present in the cockpit.

Germanwings' parent company, Lufthansa, was one of the few who did not rush to introduce any changes. “I don't see any need to change our procedures here,” Spohr told journalists. “It was a one-off case. But we will look at it with the various experts at Lufthansa and the authorities. We shouldn't lose ourselves in short-term measures.”

The recovery of bodies from the Alps has already begun, and will last for the next week or two. Body parts are being recovered via helicopter, and the process is very difficult, Robin added.


Marin Medic, an A320 pilot, told RT that all flight crew go through vigorous health checks to make sure they are fit for the responsibility of flying a passenger jet.

“Every crew goes through a yearly check, a complete medical checkup, which involves everything from blood work to interviews with psychologists to ocular exams and basically it should have assured that both flight crew members were in perfect health,” he told RT.

But he also said that pilots are coming under more and more pressure from the industry.

“Every person is an individual, but obviously if this is the case that the plane was flown into terrain on purpose, then obviously there was a major problem of a psychological nature with the first officer. It could be variety of things. Anyone can be depressive but you would think the colleagues would notice that. Although, truth be told, pilots are coming under more and more pressure as the industry seeks to expand and the work conditions deteriorate,” he said.

The voice recorders installed in flight decks are very sensitive and can detect pilots’ breathing, aviation expert Julian Bray told RT.

“The whole point is that what they have to do is that, when they analyze these tapes – remember they go into the laboratories to be analyzed – is that they need to hear everything that is going on, because there will be audio signals or warnings, and to listen to the pilots and to their breathing,” he said. “If he is breathing, that means he is there, and he is well. They really need to get an audio snapshot of exactly what has happened on that particular deck.”