Prosecutor: Co-Pilot Deliberately Crashed Germanwings Plane – Voice of America
German police have searched the homes of the German co-pilot who is believed to have crashed an Airbus jetliner into the French Alps on purpose, killing himself and 149 others.
On Friday, police searched the two homes where 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz stayed when not flying: an apartment he kept in the German city of Dusseldorf, and his parents’ home in the small German town of Montabour. Police said several items were taken as evidence. Details are expected later Friday.
On Thursday, French prosecutor Brice Robin said in a televised news conference that the plane’s co-pilot, 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz, appears to have engineered the crash after locking the pilot out of the cockpit.
Robin said the plane’s cockpit voice recorder indicates Lubitz manually changed controls to send the Airbus A-320 jetliner into a gradual 8-minute final descent at 700 kilometers an hour.
Officials say Lubitz was not on any terrorist watch lists. German media are reporting that Lubitz had taken time off work in the past for “burnout” or depression.
Mattias Gebauer, chief online correspondent for the German newspaper Der Spiegel on Friday quoted classmates of Lubitz saying he had taken a six-month break from flight training in 2009 because of “burnout.” The German paper Bild backed that report, saying Lubitz had been getting medical help for depression.
Officials from the airline’s parent company, Lufthansa, have not confirmed those reports, although Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr has said he would not know if medical issues caused Lubitz’s break in training, because German privacy rules prevent such disclosures from becoming public. He said Lubitz’s medical tests indicated he was “100 percent fit to fly” with no restrictions.
Prosecutor Robin said the cockpit recordings show that passengers were not aware of the plane’s deadly trajectory until just moments before the crash, when screams are heard on the voice recorder.
Robin said the recording also indicates the pilot – who likely had left the controls to use a lavatory – repeatedly pounded on the cockpit door to try to gain reentry. His efforts were greeted with complete silence, and Robin said the only sound coming from behind the locked, reinforced cockpit door during the descent was Lubitz’s breathing.
“The breathing is not panting. It’s a classic human breathing,” Robin said, adding that preliminary findings do not show any links between the crash and terrorism.
Flight 9525 was bound from Barcelona, Spain, to the German city of Dusseldorf, with 144 passengers and six crew when it crashed about 100 kilometers north of the French Riviera city of Nice. There were no distress calls from the aircraft during the deadly descent.
The prosecutor said Lubitz had flown the A-320 “a few months,” about 100 hours “on this type of plane.” Lufthansa, the corporate parent of its budget carrier Germanwings, said the pilot had 6,000 hours of overall flight experience and Lubitz had only 630.
Ahead of the news conference, Robin said he met with families of the victims before disclosing his conclusions about the flight’s demise. “The families were in shock,” he said. “They found it difficult to believe.”
Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said he was “stunned” by the French prosecutor’s conclusion that Lubitz deliberately crashed the jet.
He said Lubitz had passed all of the airline’s technical and medical examinations, although the medical oversight did not include psychological testing. Spohr said the airline chooses its staff “very, very carefully.”
Lufthansa said co-pilot Lubitz was accepted in 2008 into a pilot training program that normally lasts from a 18 months to two years.
People from at least 18 countries were aboard the flight, with 72 Germans and at least 35 Spaniards among the casualties.
Since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, the U.S. has required at least two people inside the cockpit of an airborne plane at all times, and a member of a flight crew is required to stand in if a pilot needs to leave.
Lufthansa and other airlines have not required the two-person cockpit presence. But Air Canada announced a new protocol Thursday that immediately requires two people in a cockpit at all times during a flight, and other airlines have taken similar action.