NEW DELHI: The co-pilot of the Germanwings plane flight 4U 9525 that crashed over the French Alps in March appears to have practiced a rapid descent on a previous flight. According to a report by French investigators, co-pilot Lubitz repeatedly set the same plane for an unauthorised descent earlier that day.

The latest revelation adds support to evidence that points toward Lubitz having deliberately crashed the plane, killing himself and the 149 people on board.

Excerpts from the official report by the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses, the French Civil Aviation Safety Investigation Authority, are as follows:

“On Tuesday 24 March 2015, the Airbus A320-211 registered D-AIPX operated by Germanwings was programmed to undertake scheduled flight 4U9525 between Barcelona (Spain) and Düsseldorf (Germany), with the callsign ‘‘GWI18G’’.

Six crew members (2 flight crew and 4 cabin crew) and 144 passengers were on board. The same crew had made the outbound flight, taking off from Düsseldorf at 6 h 01, and landing in Barcelona at 7 h 57. The takeoff from Barcelona took place at 9 h 00 from runway 07R. The co-pilot was Pilot Flying (PF). At 9 h 02 min 54, autopilot n°2 was engaged in ‘‘CLIMB’’ and ‘‘NAV’’ mode; autothrust had been engaged about a minute earlier.

At 9 h 12 min 15, during the climb, the buzzer to request access to the cockpit sounded for one second. Noises similar to the cockpit door opening and then closing were recorded, following which a flight attendant was present in the cockpit. The three crew members then started a conversation about how the stop at Barcelona had gone.

At 9 h 15 min 53, noises like those of the opening then the closing of the cockpit door were recorded. The flight attendant left the cockpit. Following that, some discussions took place between the co-pilot and the Captain about managing the delay that resulted from late departure from Barcelona.

At 9 h 27 min 20, the aeroplane levelled off at a cruise altitude of 38,000 ft (FL380) (point on figure 1). The flight crew was then in contact with the Marseille en-route control centre on the 133.330 MHz frequency. At 9 h 29 min 40, the flight crew was transferred to the 127.180 MHz frequency of the Marseille control centre.

At 9 h 30 min 00 (point), the Captain read back the controller’s clearance allowing him to fly direct to the IRMAR point: ‘‘Direct IRMAR Merci Germanwings one eight Golf’’. This was the last communication between the flight crew and ATC. At 9 h 30 min 08, the Captain told the co-pilot that he was leaving the cockpit and asked him to take over radio communications, which the co-pilot read back. At 9 h 30 min 11, the heading started to decrease and stabilised about a minute later around 23°, which is consistent with a route towards the IRMAR point. At 9 h 30 min 13, noises of a pilot’s seat movements were recorded.

At 9 h 30 min 24 (point), noises of the opening then, three seconds later, the closing of the cockpit door were recorded. The Captain was then out of the cockpit. At 9 h 30 min 53 (point), the selected altitude on the FCU changed in one second from 38,000 ft to 100 ft(2). One second later, the autopilot changed to ‘‘OPEN DES’’(3) mode and autothrust changed to ‘‘THR IDLE’’ mode.

The aeroplane started to descend and both engines’ rpm decreased. At 9 h 31 min 37, noises of a pilot’s seat movements were recorded. At 9 h 33 min 12 (point), the speed management changed from ‘‘managed’’ mode to ‘‘selected’’(4) mode. A second later, the selected target speed became 308 kt while the aeroplane’s speed was 273 kt. The aeroplane’s speed started to increase along with the aeroplane’s descent rate, which subsequently varied between 1,700 ft/min and 5,000 ft/min, then was on average about 3,500 ft/min. At 9 h 33 min 35, the selected speed decreased to 288 kt.

Then, over the following 13 seconds, the value of this target speed changed six times until it reached 302 kt. At 9 h 33 min 47 (point), the controller asked the flight crew what cruise level they were cleared for. The aeroplane was then at an altitude of 30,000 ft in descent. There was no answer from the co-pilot. Over the following 30 seconds, the controller tried to contact the flight crew again on two occasions, without any answer.

At 9 h 34 min 23, the selected speed increased up to 323 kt. The aeroplane’s speed was then 301 kt and started to increase towards the new target. At 9 h 34 min 31 (point), the buzzer to request access to the cockpit was recorded for one second. At 9 h 34 min 38, the controller again tried to contact the flight crew, without any answer.

At 9 h 34 min 47 then at 9 h 35 min 01, the Marseille control centre tried to contact the flight crew on 133.330 MHz, without any answer. The aeroplane was then at an altitude of 25,100 ft, in descent. At 9 h 35 min 03 (point), the selected speed increased again to 350 kt(5). Subsequently, and until the end of the recording:

  • the selected speed remained at 350 kt and the aeroplane’s speed stabilised around 345 kt; ?
  • the autopilot and autothrust remained engaged; ?
  • the cockpit call signal from the cabin, known as the cabin call, from the cabin interphone, was recorded on four occasions between 9 h 35 min 04 and 9 h 39 min 27 for about three seconds; ?
  • noises similar to a person knocking on the cockpit door were recorded on six occasions between 9 h 35 min 32 (point) and 9 h 39 min 02; ?
  • muffled voices were heard several times between 9 h 37 min 11 and 9 h 40 min 48, and at 9 h 37 min 13 a muffled voice asks for the door to be opened;
  • between 9 h 35 min 07 and 9 h 37 min 54, the Marseille control centre tried to contact the flight crew on three occasions on 121.5 MHz, and on two occasions on 127.180 MHz, without any answer; ?
  • between 9 h 38 min 38 (point) and 9 h 39 min 23, the French Air Defence system tried to contact the flight crew on three occasions on 121.5 MHz, without any answer; ?
  • noises similar to violent blows on the cockpit door were recorded on five occasions between 9 h 39 min 30 (point ) and 9 h 40 min 28; ?
  • low amplitude inputs on the co-pilot’s sidestick were recorded between 9 h 39 min 33 and 9 h 40 min 07(6); ?
  • the flight crew of another aeroplane tried to contact the flight crew of GWI18G at 9 h 39 min 54, without any answer.

At 9 h 40 min 41 (point ), the ‘‘Terrain, Terrain, Pull Up, Pull Up’’ aural warning from the GPWS triggered and remained active until the end of the flight. At 9 h 40 min 56, the Master Caution warning was recorded, then at 9 h 41 min 00 the Master Warning triggered and remained active until the end of the flight. At 9 h 41 min 06, the CVR recording stopped at the moment of the collision with the terrain.”

Earlier, leaked transcripts of the black box recordings had led to reports emerging that Lubitz intentionally crashed the plane. The transcripts showed 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, became key subject’s in the investigation regarding the crash.

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.