Germanwings air tragedy was murder-suicide

robinFrench investigators say the audio evidence salvaged from the wreckage of the Germanwings Airbus A320 that crashed on Tuesday, killing all 150 on board, suggests that the 28-year old co-pilot deliberately locked the captain out of the cockpit and set the aircraft controls to crash.

Brice Robin, the French investigating judge, told a press briefing that the co-pilot was alive and breathing normally until the impact of the crash, and that the most plausible interpretation of the investigators was that his actions were deliberate: to lock the captain out, to refuse to respond to Marseille air traffic control and to activate the descent.

“He did this for a reason we do not know … but it can be seen as a willingness to destroy the aircraft,” said Robin.

Describing the sequence of events, the judge said that for the first 20 minutes, there was normal conversation between the two pilots before the commander started his briefing in preparation for landing at Dusseldorf.

He described the quality of the conversation up to that point as cheerful, pleasant and courteous. As the briefing started the answers the captain received from the co-pilot – a German national called Andreas Lubitz – became terse, sombre and laconic. “It was not a real exchange between the two,” said Robin.

The captain then asks the co-pilot to take over from him and the sound of a seat being moved back and door closing is heard – as the captain leaves the cockpit most probably for a toilet break.

“The co-pilot is alone in the cockpit and it is then that co-pilot manipulates the Flight Management System in order to embark on a descent of the aircraft. He was left alone in charge of the aircraft,” said Robin.

According to the judge, this manipulation of the flight controls could only have been deliberate at this altitude as the aircraft was overflying Toulon and the top of descent point would have been planned much later on the Dusseldorf routing.

There were then several calls by the commander to be allowed back into cockpit on the video phone. “There was no answer even after knocking,” said Robin.

Investigators heard normal breathing from the cockpit and that sound of breathing was heard right until the end of the flight. “The breathing was not of someone who was suffering from any kind of malaise,” Robin reported.

“We could only hear breathing. He did not say anything, not a single word, from the time the captain left the cockpit,” said Robin, who added, “I think the captain knew what was going on and would have opened the door if he could have.”

Several attempts were made by Marseille air traffic control to contact the aircraft which included requesting nearby aircraft to conduct a relay to communicate with the unresponsive aircraft.

As the ground proximity warning system started to sound, there were violent knocks heard in an attempt to get the door open.

Who were the two pilots? The First Officer was Andreas Lubitz, 28. He was from Montabaur, in Rhineland-Palatinate. He had 630 flight hours. He joined Germanwings in September 2013 straight from the Lufthansa Flight Training School in Bremen. Lufthansa said both pilots were trained at the Lufthansa Flight Training School in Bremen. The captain had over 6,000 flight hours' experience and joined Germanwings in May 2014. Previously he was a pilot with Lufthansa and Condor, a Lufthansa partner airline. They were unable to confirm whether this was Lubitz's first job as a professional pilot, or any previous experience. The chief executive of Lufthansa has said there were no indications of abnormal behaviour in Lubitz and that there is "no system in the world" that could have predicted and prevented his actions. "He was 100 percent fit to fly. There was no particular thing to note or to watch out for (in him)." "We choose ur staff very stricty. the choice of staff is very strict - we not only take into account their technical knowledge but also the pyschological aspect of our staff." He said the psychological tests carried out on their pilots by a specialised German training centre were regarded as among the best in the world. "The co-pilot qualified as a pilot in 2008. He first worked as a steward and then became a first officer (pilot) in 2013." "He took a break in his training six years ago. Then he did the tests (technical and psychological) again. And he was deemed fit to fly." "He took a several months break for reasons i do not know. Then he had to do the test again."

Who were the two pilots?
The co-pilot was Andreas Lubitz, 28 from Montabaur, in Rhineland-Palatinate. He had 630 flight hours, joining Germanwings in September 2013 after training at Lufthansa Flight Training School in Bremen. Both pilots were trained at Bremen. The captain had over 6,000 flight hours’ experience and joined Germanwings in May 2014. Previously he was a pilot with Lufthansa and Condor, a Lufthansa partner airline.
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said pilot psychological testing was conducted by a specialised German training centre and regarded as among the best in the world.
“The co-pilot qualified as a pilot in 2008,” said Spohr, first working as a steward before becoming a first officer in 2013.
He took a break in his training six years ago and when he returned undertook the technical and psychological tests again. “There was never any doubt cast on his competence and skills and he was deemed to be fit in all areas,” said Spohr who admitted that the reasons – if medical – for his break in training would have been protected by medical privacy.

“One can hear just before the final impact, the noise of the first impact on the slope,” said Robin, who said there was no mayday distress call even at late stage.

“At this moment, the interpretation of things – some 40 hours  after the crash – is likely that the co-pilot through ‘voluntary abstention’ refused to open the cockpit door to the captain and activated the command that led to the loss of altitude,” said the investigating judge who added that the reason for the co-pilot’s action remains unknown, adding that the “co-pilot indicated a willingness to destroy the aircraft”.

Although he would not be drawn on terming the actions of the co-pilot as a suicide attempt, Robin said investigators were now trying to understand the environment of the co-pilot and that German colleagues would be conducting this aspect of the investigation.

“He voluntarily allowed the aircraft to descend to that altitude. That is not normal. There was no reason to do that. There was no reason not to allow captain back in to the cockpit or to not respond to air traffic control.”

“I know now that it was not unintentional so the characteristics of the investigation change,” said Robin.

He said he had already explained the investigation’s findings to the families of the victims. “The victims would have only realised at the very end,” he said although he admitted that ‘there were some screams just before impact.”

Read: Germanwings pilot locked out of cockpit: NYT


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