At one Glance: Suicide Killer Pilot Lubitz and his Flying Machine Germanwings 9525
NEW DELHI: The details that have emerged in the five days since the crash of Germanwings flight 4U 9525 on March 25 paint a chilling picture. It is certain by now that the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally crashed the plane, killing himself and the 149 people on board. Leaked transcripts of the black box recordings indicate that the pilot, Capt. Patrick Sondenheimer, was locked out of the cockpit and tried to break the door down. Lubitz’ medical history, including a bout with depression six years ago, and his personal life, have become key subject’s in the investigation regarding the crash.
So what happened?
On March 25, the Germanwings plane, flying from Barcelona to Dusseldorf crashed over the French Alps, killing 150 people on board. The data recorded on one of the black boxes provides some insight into what exactly happened. This recording was released German tabloid newspaper Bild, based on which, we know the following thus far (based on CNN’s translation of the report in Bild):
- There are 1.5 hours of sound on the voice recorder.
- The flight took off 20 minutes late, for which Capt. Sondenheimer apologizes, adding that they will make up for lost time in the air
- The captain tells co-pilot Lubitz that he did not have the time to go to the bathroom in Barcelona. Lubitz tells him that he can go anytime.
- The plane reaches its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet at 10:27 a.m. local time. Lubitz repeats to the captain, "You can go now” [implying that the captain can now use the bathroom]. There is the sound of a seat moving backward and the captain is heard saying, "You can take over."
- At 10:29 a.m., air traffic radar detects that the plane is beginning to descend.
- At 10:32 a.m., air traffic controllers contact the plane and receive no answer. Almost at the same time, an alarm goes off in the cockpit saying "sink rate."
- Shortly after there is a loud bang on the door. The pilot can be heard screaming, "For God's sake, open the door!" Passengers can be heard screaming in the background.
- At 10:35 a.m., loud metallic bangs can be heard as though someone is trying to knock down the door. The plane is at about 23,000 feet.
- Ninety seconds later, another alarm goes off: "Terrain -- pull up!" The plane is at about 16,400 feet. The captain is heard screaming, "Open the damn door!"
- At 10:38 a.m., the plane is descending toward the French Alps, and the co-pilot can be heard breathing. The plane is at about 13,100 feet.
- At 10:40 a.m., it sounds like the plane's right wing scrapes a mountaintop, then screams can be heard one more time. Those are the last sounds on the voice recorder.
The investigation into the crash is ongoing, and the flight data recorder -- which can provide key details regarding what happened -- remains missing. The leaked information, however, has cast the spotlight on Lubitz, specifically his personal life, medical history and professional ambitions.
So who was Lubitz?
On the surface, Lubitz seemed like a regular 27 year old. About 85 miles (136 km) from Dusseldorf, in the town of Montabaur, details regarding Lubitz’ life were pieced together. The young man was passionate about flying, and was a regular fixture at the gliding club between the age of 14 and 20. "(He was) a very normal young person, full of energy," said pilot Klaus Radke (as quoted in CNN). "What can I say? He had a bright future. He made his hobby into his job. What more can you hope to achieve?" Peter Ruecker, another pilot who knew him from the flight club, had a similar memory. "Knowing Andreas, this is just inconceivable for me," Ruecker told the Reuters news agency. "He was a lot of fun, even though he was perhaps sometimes a bit quiet," Ruecker said. "He was just another boy, like so many others here."
Lubitz had been with Germanwings, owned by Lufthansa, since September 2013, having clocked 630 hours of flight time. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told reporters that Lubitz "interrupted" his training -- which he began in 2008 -- for several months, but such an interruption is not uncommon. Without providing details, Spohr said that the interruption was for medical reasons. Most of Lubitz's training took place at the Lufthansa flight training center in Bremen, with Lubitz also spending six months at a facility in Arizona.
Lubitz had passed the medical and psychological test that is mandatory for pilots before they are hired. "We don't only look at competence but we also give a lot of room to psychological capabilities," Spohr said (as quoted in CNN). "He was 100% set to fly without restrictions," he added. "His flight performance was perfect. There was nothing to worry about."
Details that have since emerged, however, indicate that there was cause for concern. German state prosecutors revealed that they had found evidence that Lubitz had hidden an unspecified medical condition from his employers. Documents with medical contents were confiscated that point towards an existing illness and corresponding treatment by doctors," said the prosecutors' office in Dusseldorf, as reported by Reuters. "The fact there are sick notes saying he was unable to work, among other things, that were found torn up, which were recent and even from the day of the crime, support the assumption based on the preliminary examination that the deceased hid his illness from his employer and his professional colleagues.”
Bild reported that Lubitz had spent 18 months undergoing psychiatric treatment. According to the German tabloid, Lubitz sought psychiatric help for "a bout of serious depression" in 2009, with treatment continuing. Düsseldorf University Hospital confirmed in a statement on Friday that Lubitz had been undergoing diagnosis there since last month, DPA news agency reported. “Reports telling that Andreas L. [Lubitz] received treatment against depression at our clinic are inaccurate,” a hospital spokesperson said, adding: “It was diagnostic tests.”
A report in the New York Times quoted prosecutors as saying that Lubitz sought treatment for vision problems that may have jeopardized his ability to continue working as a pilot. The police found antidepressants during a search of his apartment on Thursday, the same report noted.
Other reports have speculated that there was trouble in Lubitz’ personal life. Bild reported that "Lubitz had a serious relationship crisis with his girlfriend before the disaster and the resulting heartbreak is thought to have led to this. Other reports state that Lubitz was expecting a baby with his unnamed partner. Bild am Sonntag, the nation's best-selling Sunday paper, said that the woman had broken the news to her students within the past few weeks.
Bild quoted Maria W, full name withheld, an airstewess who previously dated Lubitz, saying, in reference to the crash: "Whether relationship problems had anything to do with it I don't know.” Mariq, however, did say that "He did it because he realised that because of his health problems his big dream of a job with Lufthansa; a job as captain and as a long haul pilot was as good as impossible."
Maria did describe Lubitz as tormented" and secretive. She remembered how Lubitz had said he would do something one day "that would change the system" so "everyone will then know my name and remember me." “ did not know what he meant by that at the time, but now it's clear," she told Bild. Maria added that Lubitz sometimes woke up at night screaming, "We're going down!" in terror.