There was some hint of this on last night’s news, which noted that Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who apparently programed the Germanwings flight to crash—killing the pilot (locked out of the cockpit) and 148 others—had taken a break from his flight training in 2010 for unknown reasons. I wondered then if Lubitz had a mental illness, but they did not disclose the reason. Now it appears that he had some medical condition, at least according to my CNN bulletin:
Documents found in the apartment of Germanwings Flight 9525 co-pilot Andreas Lubitz indicate he had an illness he kept “secret from his employer and his professional environment,” official says.
Investigators found a medical leave note from a doctor issued for the co-pilot that included the day of the crash, the Dusseldorf public prosecutor’s office said.
The prosecutor’s office did not say if the medical leave note related to a physical or a mental health issue but said the co-pilot appeared to have been under treatment by a doctor for some time.
Investigators added that no goodbye letter, and no evidence of political or religious motivation was found, the prosecutor’s office said.
While a mental illness seems likely, it’s also possible he had some terminal condition and killed himself to avoid a prolonged death. The baffling part is why he decided to kill so many people with him. My thought on that was this: it’s painful and sometimes uncertain to commit suicide by other means, but death by plane crash is instantaneous, and if you’re a pilot determined to kill yourself that way, you’ll have to take others with you. It’s still unconscionable and puzzling—unless the man was mentally ill and didn’t care about how many people he killed. Either way he is a mass murderer, perhaps the worst in modern German history.
The New York Times adds a bit more:
. . . there had been an instance six years ago when Mr. Lubitz took a break from his training for several months. He said that if the reason was medical, German rules on privacy prevented the sharing of such information. Mr. Spohr [the chief executive of Lufthansa] said the revelation of Mr. Lubitz’s actions had left him stunned.
The tragedy has, according to the NYT, led to a change in airline practices:
Some international airlines responded to the crash by introducing new rules requiring that two crew members always be present in the cockpit, after the French prosecutor revealed that Mr. Lubitz had locked the plane’s pilot out of the cockpit before starting the deadly descent. The airlines that said they were instituting a two-person rule in the cockpit included Air Canada, easyJet and Norwegian Air Shuttle.
All German airlines will introduce that requirement, the German aviation association said on Friday.
Thomas Winkelmann, the head of Germanwings, however, expressed doubt that such a rule would have prevented Tuesday’s crash.
“I ask myself, when a person is so bent on committing a criminal act, whether that is preventable if for example a stewardess or steward is in the cockpit,” Mr. Winkelmann told the German public broadcaster ZDF on Thursday.
Well, having another crew member in the cockpit while the pilot hits the lavatory couldn’t hurt, could it? A suicidal pilot would then have to overpower that other person before crashing the plane.
The NYT has a detailed series of interactive map of the crash, as well as an informative diagram of how the cockpit-door lock works. Note that the co-pilot could have prevented anyone from entering for five minutes simply by overriding the keypad entry code by pushing a “lock” toggle. But since the pilot was locked out for ten minutes (see the map), Lubitz must have somehow barred the door.