• Spain's news in English

Germanwings co-pilot hid illness from airline

AFP · 27 Mar 2015, 18:08

Published: 27 Mar 2015 18:08 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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 murder.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that "everything is pointing towards an act that we can't describe: criminal, crazy, suicidal".

Brother of Alps crash victim: "I am in a rage"

IN PICTURES: Grieving relatives visit crash site

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".

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 doomed plane was bound.

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 attempts to get him to reopen the door, French prosecutor Brice Robin said.

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

This could not be immediately confirmed, but a spokesman for Germanwings told Bild that an axe was standard emergency equipment on board the aircraft.

The tragedy has already prompted a shake-up of safety rules, with several airlines announcing a new policy requiring there always be two people in the cockpit.

German aviation industry body BDL and the transport ministry agreed to the rule for Lufthansa, its subsidiary Germanwings and other companies, while the European Aviation Security Agency threw its weight behind the policy.

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

   - 'Unimaginable' -

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the findings that Lubitz appeared intent on crashing the plane added an "absolutely unimaginable dimension" to the tragedy, in which most victims were German and Spanish nationals.

In the northwestern town of Haltern, which lost 16 students and two teachers who were returning from a school exchange, the revelations prompted shock and rage.

The principal of the stricken school, Ulrich Wessel, said "what makes all of us so angry (is) that a suicide can lead to the deaths of 149 other people".

German President Joachim Gauck, a Protestant pastor, attended a memorial service in Haltern Friday and also extended special condolences to the families of the victims in Spain and other countries.

Story continues below…

Meanwhile in Montabaur, Mayor Edmund Schaaf urged reporters encamped in the community to show restraint with Lubitz's parents, a banker and a church organist, who live in a handsome home 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.

   - Descent button -

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.

"He does not say a single word. Total silence," Robin said.

The second-in-command had all psychological tests required for training, Lufthansa's Spohr told reporters Thursday, insisting: "He was 100-percent airworthy."

Recovery operations at the crash site were ongoing, with French officials trying to find body parts and evidence. A second black box, which records flight data, has not yet been recovered.

"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.

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

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
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!

Brit 'paedo' held on Costa del Sol after Most Wanted appeal

One of Britain's most wanted fugitives was arrested on the Costa Del Sol following a tip-off from an expat just hours after his face appeared on a public appeal.

Spain's parliament approves deficit reduction measures
Photo: Images Money/Flickr

Spanish lawmakers approved on Thursday measures to reduce the public deficit and keep it under the target agreed with the European Union.

'Cubism and War' show opens at Barcelona Picasso Museum
Pablo Picasso Harlequin and Woman with a Necklace. Photo: MP

Barcelona's Picasso Museum unveiled an exhibition on "Cubism and War" on Thursday depicting how one of the most influential artistic styles of the 20th century survived the First World War.

Why this bionic limb pioneer doesn't believe in disability
Hugh Herr has been award Spain's top science prize. Photo: FPA

The Local speaks to Hugh Herr on winning Spain's top science prize and how being an amputee doesn't make him disabled.

Dine in the buff at Spain's first nudist restaurant
A buffet of organic food will be served on "human tables". Photo: Innato / Facebook

Spain's first naked dining experience is to arrive on the island of Tenerife following the success of a similar venture in London.

Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Photo: AFP

Spain's Constitutional Court on Thursday cancelled a bullfighting ban in Catalonia in what is likely to exacerbate tensions between Madrid and the separatist region, and between animal activists and fans of the tradition.

Out of the dark: Five years on from Eta ceasefire
Eta members made a ceasefire declaration in January, 2011. Photo: Gara / AFP

Five years after armed separatist group Eta declared a permanent ceasefire, Basque journalist Alberto Letona is still wondering when the dialogue will begin.

Hunt for ten most wanted Brit fugitives hiding out in Spain
Call Crimestoppers if you recognize these faces.

These fugitives from British justice are thought to be hiding out in Spain. Do you recognize anyone?

Eta 'not dead' but Spain focus moves onto jihadism
Archive photo of a pro-mural in the Basque Country. Photo: AFP

Five years after Eta quit violence, the Basque separatist group has yet to dissolve but it poses little threat and authorities have shifted their focus to fight jihadists, says Spain's chief anti-terrorism prosecutor.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Madrid parish church faces fine over 'too noisy' bells
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Fury after kids told to bring their own loo roll to school
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
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
Forgotten Voices: What Brits in Spain think about Brexit
One dead and 14 injured in blast at Spanish resort
Game of Thrones want extras 'with muscles' to film in Spain
Thousands march in Madrid to push for bullfighting ban
jobs available