• Spain's news in English

What happened to pilots in Germanwings crash?

Oliver Gee · 26 Mar 2015, 12:34

Published: 26 Mar 2015 12:34 GMT+01:00
Updated: 26 Mar 2015 12:34 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit
What do we know so far?
A senior military official involved in the investigation has said that the audio from the "black box" flight recorder reveals that one of the pilots left his seat and then exited the cockpit, reported both the New York Times and the AFP news agency.
It was later confirmed by the Dusseldorf state prosecutor. 
He can then be heard knocking lightly on the door in an attempt to get back in. Soon after, he can reportedly be heard trying to break the door down.
No conversation is heard. Minutes later the plane hit a mountain in the French Alps, killing all 150 on board. 
It remains unconfirmed which pilot was in the cockpit and which was locked out, but French newspaper Le Monde reported that the lesser experienced co-pilot was the one outside the cockpit.

(One of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit, reports say. Photo: Mark Harkin/Flickr)
Who were the pilots?
The co-pilot had been on the job since September 2013 and had 630 hours of flying experience. He "was First Officer at Germanwings since September 2013," a Lufthansa spokeswoman told AFP. 
By comparison the plane's pilot had more than ten years experience and 6,000 hours of experience flying the Airbus A320 model.
Neither of the pilots have been named. 
Was there someone else inside?
French aviation safety expert Christophe Naudin told The Local that it remains unclear whether someone else may have gained entry to the cockpit.
"We don't know whether the pilot left and was locked out or someone else entered the cockpit and locked him out," he said.
"What's troubling is that apparently we don't hear voices anymore once the door is locked."

(Hundreds of emergency workers are on the scene. Photo: AFP)
Why couldn't the pilot get back in?
There are different levels when it comes to locking the cabin door.
Generally, a pilot can re-enter the cockpit using a special code, but even this can be manually overridden by whoever is in the cockpit.
This is designed to keep the pilots safe in the potential case of a terror attack - meaning that no one can get inside the cockpit without the captain's express permission.
This switch may have been turned on while the co-pilot was outside the cockpit on the Germanwings flight. If so, it remains unknown if the lock was turned on deliberately or due to technical fault.
Once the cockpit door is securely locked it is impossible to gain access, even with the code, explained Naudin.
Reinforced cockpit doors were installed on all planes at the behest of the US in the aftermath of 9/11.
"This case could show that having reinforced doors does not necessarily increase security and safety on airplanes," Naudin said.
What was happening with the pilot inside?
This is the biggest mystery. No distress signal was sent from the plane and the crew failed to respond to ground control's desperate attempts to make contact.
Authorities have said the plane was still flying at the moment of the crash, meaning it did not explode mid-air. 
Aviation experts have suggested several theories. 
"If the pilots did not stop the airplane from flying into the mountains, it is because they were unconscious or dead, or they had decided to die, or they were forced to die," one expert told the AFP news agency.
Authorities hope to find the second black box to reveal more.

(The first black box, above, revealed that one of the pilots left the cockpit)
A theory put forward by several pilots and ex-BEA investigators is that the plane lost cabin pressure and that the oxygen masks did not work, reported the AFP news agency.
Story continues below…
In that case, the pilots could have fallen victim to hypoxia, or oxygen starvation.
This is what happened in the case of a Helios Airways Boeing 737, which crashed on August 14, 2005, killing all 121 people on board.
In the case of the Germanwings plane, it is too soon to rule out other options such as one of the pilots committing suicide.
How does the cockpit door's locking system work?
It's complicated. Here is a video showing how the system is meant to work on an Airbus. If the pilot inside was unconscious or unresponsive, it explains how the other pilot was unable to enter. It remains unknown if a third person was in the cockpit at the time. 

Could there have been a problem with the plane?
Unlikely. The head of France's Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses (BEA) crash investigation agency, Remi Jouty, told reporters he still had "not the slightest explanation" for the tragedy at this stage.
"It is inexplicable. The plane was in perfect condition and the two pilots were experienced," Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said in Frankfurt.
Weather did not appear to be a factor in the crash, with conditions calm at the time, and Germanwings had an unblemished safety record.
How were the passengers reacting?
While the unconfirmed reports mentioned nothing about noises coming from the passengers, just the thought of a pilot desperately trying to break into his own cockpit is terrifying enough. 
Especially considering that the plane plunged a full eight minutes before it crashed into the mountainside. 

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Man rescued from bin after climbing in find old clothes
Photo: Policía Local Murcia

Police were called after passersby reported hearing a man calling for help from within a rubbish bin in the Vistabella neighbourhood of Murcia, southern Spain.

Spain faces crucial week as conservatives re-take power
Mariano Rajoy hopes to form a government this week. Photo: AFP

Spain entered a crucial week as acting conservative PM Mariano Rajoy prepared to re-take power, ending ten rollercoaster months without government marked by hope and disillusion.

Eight very creepy Halloween costumes ideas from Spain
Photo: Pan's Labyrinth

Forget flamenco dancers and bullfighters, The Local counts down the freakiest alternative costume ideas to dress up in this Halloween.

Man attacked by racist thug in UK street for talking Spanish

Tomas Gil, 27, from Valencia in eastern Spain was talking to his girlfriend in their native language after a night out in the British seaside town of Poole when he was set upon by a racist thug.

Malaga: Police probe bizarre 'sex death' of homeless Brit
The man was found near Malaga airport. Photo: Dennis Howlett / Flickr

A British homeless man was found dead tied to a bench near Malaga airport with his trousers down and his genitals in a can of tuna.

Clock ticking as Spain races to avoid third elections
Third elections could now be avoided. Photo: AFP

Spain's Socialists voted on Sunday to allow the conservatives to take power, likely averting a third election for Spaniards tired of going to the polls.

Spain worries about tourism future
Photo: Josep Lago / AFP file picture

After basking in its best tourist summer season in 15 years, Spain now sees dark clouds on the horizon as popular destinations reach saturation point and holidaymakers are more thrifty, industry experts say.

Spain's Socialists lift veto on Rajoy to break deadlock
The Socialists have decided to lift their veto on the minority conservative government or not. Photo: Gerard Julien/ AFP

Spain's embattled Socialists on Sunday voted to lift a long-standing veto that has prevented the conservatives from forming a minority government, in what should finally end a ten-month political impasse.

Spain's 'Napflix' aims to bore viewers to sleep
Photo: Screengrab/ Napflix

A Spanish video platform called Napflix, designed to put people to sleep with dull content, was launched this week and its founders are on the lookout for more "monotony and repetition."

Recipe: How to make fabada - traditional Asturian bean stew
Photo: Flavio Lorenzo Sánchez/Flickr

The hearty Asturian dish is a perfect lunch on a cold day... and don't forget the crusty bread and cider!

Spanish 'La Mafia' restaurants banned after Italian complaint
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Hunt launched for ten most wanted Brit fugitives hiding out in Spain
Napflix: Spaniards launch very boring TV channel for siestas
Madrid parish church faces fine over 'too noisy' bells
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Fury after kids told to bring their own loo roll to school
Disney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie
Activist tells 8-yr-old matador wannabe with cancer 'just die'
King to make last minute push to avoid third vote in Spain
Amazing photos of Catalonia's 'human tower' contest
What's on in Spain: October 2016
'No way, Jose! You'll never get your hands on our Rock'
Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Chorizo in paella? Go back to cooking school Jamie Oliver
Spain in eye of a perfect storm after 10 months without govt
Thousands share clips of life for 'Spain in a Day' film
Ten incredible Spain locations for Game of Thrones season 7
Analysis & Opinion
Why moving to Spain could be the best decision of your life
Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Spanish study finds four types of personality. Which are you?
New search underway for civil war grave of poet Lorca
Bison found decapitated on Valencia nature reserve
jobs available