NEW DELHI: Reports have indicated that one of the two pilots of Germanwings flight 4U 9525 -- that crashed over the French Alps on March 25 -- was locked out of the cockpit before the plane went down.

A senior military official, who is working on the extracted cockpit voice recordings from one of the black boxes, told the New York Times that the audio indicated that one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter. “The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer,” the investigator said. “And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer.”

He said, “You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”

This insight has opened a can of worms regarding the crash. “We don’t know yet the reason why one of the guys went out,” said the official, who requested anonymity because the investigation was continuing. “But what is sure is that at the very end of the flight, the other pilot is alone and does not open the door.”

What happened to flight 4U 9525 that caused the crash and the death of all 150 people on board? What we do know adds to the deep mystery. The Airbus A320 came down rapidly -- 31,000 feet in nine minutes -- but sent no distress signal; the weather was reportedly not a factor; the Captain had more than 10 years of experience and had clocked more than 6000 flight hours on the Airbus model. The rapid descent would indicate an explosion or mid-air stall, but unverified data from plane-tracking websites seems to rule both possibilities out. In the event of total engine failure, planes should be able to glide for longer. David Learmount, the operations and safety editor of Flightglobal, said on Twitter: “German-operated A320s do not crash in the cruise. Not these days. This one is weird.”

Weird is one thing. For anyone following the news, the crash of Germanwings 9525 is the latest in a long strong of frightening aviation disasters. In fact, 2014 in most people’s eyes will be remembered as one of the worst years in aviation, with disasters including the crash of AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ8501 and Malaysian Airlines flights MH370 and MH17.

Those same people would be surprised to know that according to the Aviation Safety Network, which collects data on fatal crashes of airliners (planes carrying more than 14 passengers), there were only 20 such events last year, making it the safest year to fly since 1942 -- when ASN’s data set starts.

The graph below (source: shows that 2014, contrary to popular perceptions, was a very, very safe year for aviation. One caveat: the data does not include the Malaysian Airlines MH17 crash, with the 298 victims being considered victims of war as the plane was shot down over conflict-torn Ukraine.

The number of accidents given the air traffic is impressive. According to Bloomberg, ten years ago U.S. airlines recorded 61 billion available seat miles — aircraft seats flown one mile — per quarter, compared to 230 billion today.

Feel safer? Now for the bad news. 2014 was not a great year in terms of number of deaths per crash, ranking second only to 1985 (see graph below. Source:, when the worst crash in airline in history killed 520 people in the mountains of Japan.

This fact, however, can be explained by the fact that airlines are using bigger and bigger planes, even on shorter roots. All in all, the odds of dying on a major airline flight are one in 4.7 million.

Nevertheless, here is a grim recap of 2014, as resource material all the conspiracy theorists who will now, inevitable, start postulating theories on what happened to Germanwings 9525.

February 2014: a Nepal Airlines Twin Otter aircraft crashed into a mountainside near Sandhikhark, Nepal, on February 16, killing all 18 on-board.

March 2014: MH370 disappeared in March, and extensive search efforts since have yielded no sign of the plane. The flight’s disappearance is considered one of the biggest aviation mysteries, with evidence suggesting that the plane’s communication systems were “deliberately disabled,” leading to various theories including terrorist involvement or a potential hijack. With all passengers being cleared of suspicion, including two who were traveling on stolen passports, suspicion fell on the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, of MH370.

More significantly, the jetliner's data communications systems - the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARA) - were switched off, and investigators have pointed to the fact that someone with knowledge of the systems could have played a role, leading to doubt falling on the pilots themselves. Further, the last words spoken from the cockpit seem to indicate that nothing was wrong, with Hamid reportedly saying, “All right, good night" (later revealed to be goodnight Malaysian three seven zero) when Malaysian air traffic controllers informed them that control was being handed over to Vietnam. The plane never made contact with Vietnam, and investigators believe that the reassuring words were spoken at around the same time that the ACARA systems were turned off. So far, no evidence of the pilots’ involvement has been found -- and neither have any traces of the plane.

July 2014: MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. The shooting-down escalated tensions between between Russia, which supports the pro-independence rebels in Ukraine’s east, and United States-led Western power that back the government in Kiev.

The tensions are linked to ambiguity regarding the circumstances that led to the plane’s crash, with Kiev releasing an audio of what it says are intercepted telephone conversations between rebels and Russian military intelligence officers during which the former admit to shooting down a plane. Leaders of the rebel Donetsk People's Republic denied involvement, saying instead that a Ukrainian air force jet had brought down the plane.

July 2014: TransAsia Airways ATR 72-500 crashed near Magong Airport in Taiwan on July 23, with 48 passengers and crew dying after the plane missed its first runway approach. Miraculously 10 people survived the crash.

July 2014: an Air Algerie MD-83 passenger aircraft dropped off the radar and crashed while flying over Mali, en route to Algiers from the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou. All 116 occupants were killed.

August 2014: an Iranian-built Sepahan Airlines plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran International Airport. 39 people died.

December 2014: QZ8501 disappeared en route to Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia, with 162 people on board. Debris from the plane was located off the coast of Borneo soon after, with all passengers declared dead.