Germanwings crash co-pilot hid illness from airline

28th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

The Germanwings co-pilot who crashed his Airbus into the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard, hid a serious illness from the airline, prosecutors said Friday amid reports he was severely depressed.

The black box voice recorder indicates that Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked his captain out of the cockpit on Tuesday and deliberately flew Flight 4U 9525 into a mountainside, French officials say, in what appears to have been a case of suicide and mass killing.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that all the signs were "pointing towards an act that we can't describe: criminal, crazy, suicidal".

German prosecutors revealed that searches of Lubitz's homes netted "medical documents that suggest an existing illness and appropriate medical treatment", including "torn-up and current sick leave notes, among them one covering the day of the crash".

They did not specify the illness.

But Bild daily earlier reported that Lubitz sought psychiatric help for "a bout of serious depression" in 2009 and was still getting assistance from doctors, quoting documents from Germany's air transport regulator.

The paper also cited security sources as saying that Lubitz and his girlfriend were having a "serious crisis in their relationship" that left him distraught.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said that Lubitz had suspended his pilot training, which began in 2008, "for a certain period", before restarting and qualifying for the Airbus A320 in 2013.

According to Bild, those setbacks were linked to "depression and anxiety attacks".

- 50,000 euros per passenger -

Half of the 150 victims of Tuesday's disaster were German, with Spain accounting for at least 50 and the remainder composed of more than a dozen other nationalities.

Germanwings said Friday it had offered the victims' families "up to 50,000 euros ($54,800) per passenger" towards their immediate costs.

The assistance, which the families would not be required to pay back, was separate from the compensation that the airline will likely have to pay over the disaster, a Germanwings spokesman told AFP.

A religious ceremony will take place Saturday morning at 10.30am (09:30 GMT) at the Notre-Dame-du-Bourg cathedral in the nearby town of Digne-les-Bains, police said.

Lubitz lived with his parents in his small home town of Montabaur in the Rhineland and kept an apartment in Duesseldorf, the city where his plane was bound from Barcelona.

Duesseldorf prosecutors said the evidence found in the two homes "backs up the suspicion" that Lubitz "hid his illness from his employer and his colleagues".

They said they had not found a suicide note, confession or anything pointing to a "political or religious" motive but added it would take "several days" to evaluate the rest of what was collected.

Reiner Kemmler, a psychologist who specialises in training pilots, noted that people "know that depression can compromise their airworthiness and they can hide it".

"If someone dissimulates, ie they don't want other people to notice, it's very, very difficult," Kemmler told Deutschlandfunk public radio.

- Desperate captain used 'axe' -

Lubitz locked himself into the cockpit when the captain went out to use the toilet, then refused his colleague's increasingly desperate entreaties to reopen the door, French prosecutor Brice Robin said.

According to Bild, the captain even tried using an axe to hack through the armoured door as the plane was sent into its fatal descent by Lubitz.

The tragedy has prompted a shake-up of airline safety rules.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recommended Friday that at least two people be present in the cockpit of planes at all times, which is the standard in the United States.

German authorities agreed to the rule for Lufthansa, its subsidiary Germanwings and other companies.

Authorities in Germany, Austria and Portugal also announced that they would be requiring the adoption of the so-called "rule of two", which has been backed by Air France, KLM, Britain's easyJet, Brussels Airlines and Norwegian Air Shuttle, among other airlines.

Ireland's Ryanair, Finland's Finnair and Spanish carrier Iberia already adhere to the rule.

Meanwhile, the UN world aviation body stressed that all pilots must have regular mental and physical check-ups.

- Media siege of pilot home -

In the northwestern town of Haltern, which lost 16 students and two teachers on the flight, news that the co-pilot had apparently acted deliberately caused shock and anger.

German President Joachim Gauck, a Protestant pastor, attended a memorial service in the town Friday.

Meanwhile in Montabaur, Mayor Edmund Schaaf urged reporters camped out in the community to show restraint towards Lubitz's parents, a banker and a church organist who live on a leafy, normally quiet street.

"Regardless of whether the accusations against the co-pilot are true, we sympathise with his family and ask the media to be considerate," he said.

Investigators say Lubitz's intention was clear because he operated a button sending the plane into a plunge.

For the next eight minutes, Lubitz was apparently calm and breathing normally.

The second-in-command had passed all psychological tests required for training, Lufthansa's Spohr told reporters Thursday.

Recovery operations at the remote crash site were still ongoing, with French officials continuing to comb the mountain for body parts and evidence.

"There's not much plane debris left. There's mainly a lot of body parts to pick up. The operation could last another two weeks," said police spokesman Xavier Vialenc.

The plane's second black box, which records flight data, has not yet been recovered.

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© 2015 AFP

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