Germanwings plane crash: Co-pilot ‘wanted to destroy plane’

BBC News

The co-pilot of the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps, named as Andreas Lubitz, appeared to want to “destroy the plane”, officials said.

The co-pilot of the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps, named as Andreas Lubitz, appeared to want to “destroy the plane”, officials said.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, citing information from the “black box” voice recorder, said the co-pilot was alone in the cockpit.

He intentionally started a descent while the pilot was locked out.

Mr Robin said there was “absolute silence in the cockpit” as the pilot fought to re-enter it.

He said air traffic controllers made repeated attempts to contact the aircraft, but to no avail. Passengers could be heard screaming just before the crash, he added.

Details are emerging of the German co-pilot’s past – although his apparent motives for causing the crash remain a mystery.

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What happened in the final half hour?

Mr Lubitz, 28, had undergone intensive training and “was 100% fit to fly without any caveats”, according to Carsten Spohr, the head of Lufthansa, the German carrier that owns Germanwings.

Mr Spohr said Mr Lubitz’s training had been interrupted for several months six years ago, but was resumed after “the suitability of the candidate was re-established”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that the co-pilot’s apparent actions had given the tragedy a “new, simply incomprehensible dimension”.

Police have been searching the co-pilot’s home for evidence, German prosecutors told the Reuters news agency.

The Airbus 320 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf hit a mountain, killing all 144 passengers and six crew, after an eight-minute descent.

Interior view of cockpit
A view of the cockpit of the Germanwings aircraft, photographed a few days before the crash
Crash site clear-up
The crash site, in a remote mountain ravine, is now the scene of a massive recovery operation
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Media captionMembers of the flight club where Andreas Lubitz was a member have been talking about his personality
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Andreas Lubitz: Germanwings co-pilot under scrutiny

  • Started training in 2008, at Bremen and Arizona. Training briefly interrupted – but deemed fit to fly
  • Working as co-pilot, or first officer, since 2013. Appeared pleased with his job
  • Lived in town of Montabaur, near Frankfurt, reportedly with his parents. Kept a flat in Duesseldorf and had many friends
  • Facebook profile suggests the active lifestyle of a keen runner, with an interest in pop music
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“We hear the pilot ask the co-pilot to take control of the plane and we hear at the same time the sound of a seat moving backwards and the sound of a door closing,” Mr Robin told reporters.

He said the pilot, named in the German media as Patrick S, had probably gone to the toilet.

“At that moment, the co-pilot is controlling the plane by himself. While he is alone, the co-pilot presses the buttons of the flight monitoring system to put into action the descent of the aeroplane.

Crash site close-ups

Close-ups of debris

“He operated this button for a reason we don’t know yet, but it appears that the reason was to destroy this plane.”

Mr Lubitz was alive until the final impact, the prosecutor said.

Mr Robin said “the most plausible interpretation” was that the co-pilot had deliberately barred the pilot from re-entering the cockpit.

He added that the co-pilot was “not known by us” to have any links to extremism or terrorism.

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Analysis: Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent

The focus now moves from the mechanics to the man flying the plane. An accident expert has told me the investigators will pore over the co-pilot’s background and that of his family too.

Did he owe money? Was there a grudge? They’ll look at his religion, whether he was in trouble with the law, whether he had a stable love life. This kind of event is rare but it has happened before, although the reasons vary widely.

After 9/11, they made cockpits impregnable. It keeps the terrorists out, but in the end it also allows someone to keep their colleagues out too. Airlines have to make a call. Which is the bigger threat – terrorism or suicide?

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Passengers were not aware of the impending crash “until the very last moment” when screams could be heard, Mr Robin said, adding that they died instantly.

Meanwhile, relatives and friends of the victims are due to visit the area of the crash.

Many expressed anger and alarm after the likely cause of the crash emerged.

Media captionRescuer Jean Sebastien Beaud describes the plane crash scene as “surreal”
Investigators outside co-pilot's house
Investigators have been gathering evidence from the co-pilot’s house in Montabaur, Germany
Crash site clear-up
Investigators are still searching for the second of the two ‘black box’ flight data recorders

“One person can’t have the right to end the lives of hundreds of people and families,” Esteban Rodriguez, a Spanish factory worker who lost two friends aboard the aircraft, told the Associated Press news agency.

The principal of a German high school that lost 16 students and two teachers in the crash said the latest news was “much, much worse than we had thought”.

Residents of Alpine villages near the scene of the crash have also expressed shock.

“For the pilot it’s suicide, perhaps, but it’s an attack on the other people. Yes, an attack,” Charles Bosshardt, a mountain risk adviser, said. “It’s horrible, there are no words.”

Lufthansa has arranged two special flights for families and friends on Thursday – one from Barcelona and one from Duesseldorf – to Marseille, and both groups will travel on by road. Separately, some relatives who did not want to fly are travelling by bus from Barcelona.

The second “black box” – that records flight data – has still not been found.

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