More on the German plane crash

March 27, 2015 • 8:00 am

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.

103 thoughts on “More on the German plane crash

  1. I heard breaking news that he had suffered from severe depression. That would be consistent with this type of irrational behaviour. If he wanted to kill himself because of an illness, he probably would have chosen a better method (ie: more rational way that didn’t involve taking out everyone on his plane).

    1. It is difficult to assess, but I would suppose he was not thinking of anyone else & that his black dog was all there was…?

    2. It’s infuriating to know that he was getting psychiatric treatment and his employer didn’t know anything about it.

    3. Why not rent a small plane to accomplish that goal? Or was there a goal to receive sustained world-wide recognition?

      Bloody kill only yourself – leave others alone.

      1. Also: I note in today’s hard-copy NYT the following sentence in the article headlined “Fatal Descent of Plane . . . .”:

        “The revelation that one of the pilots had been locked out of the cockpit was first reported by The New York Times.”

        Fine.

        Of what relevance to this occurrence is the fact that the NYT reported it first? Had another media outlet first reported it, would the Times be as inclined to report that irrelevancy in the body of the article?

        Moral: Don’t pass up any opportunity for self-aggrandizement on the coattails of a tragedy.

          1. You are right. I heard it just before noon (UK time) on the 26th, when two BBC radio channels reported live, with simultaneous translation, from the French prosecutors news conference.

          2. “I thought it was reported by the French prosecutor, and only repeated by various news outlets.”

            I accept your reasoning. Were the NY Times also to so accept, then I suppose that it would claim to be the FIRST to “repeat” it, eh?

        1. I don’t know that term, but by analogy with the ‘Texas sharpshooter’ story it sounds very uncomfortable.

          1. As it surrounds the male member, it’s surely more comfortable than having the alternative catheter probe inserted through the urethra until it enters the bladder. The disadvantage is that there is not always a leak-proof seal around the male member.

            Of course women don’t have this option.

            Also, a kudo to nursing staff, for their compassion and regard for the dignity of the patient in such circumstances.

            1. I also meant to say that I gather that this particular catheter was invented at a Texas hospital facility, possibly Baylor. I don’t know of any other Texas-related inspiration for its name.

  2. It appears from reports going out today that he was suffering from depression and probably has been for some time. Hiding it from the employer of course.

    Believe it may be time for all airlines to spend more effort on the metal health of its pilots and not just concentrating on the physical. Depression is probably the number one cause for suicide and it happens to every kind of person.

    Why depression should also lead to mass murder??

    1. Oh yeah, there is a dead bolt on the door that can be engaged only from the inside, manually. The guy on the inside does that and nobody gets in.

      1. The door lock is intended as a way to keep “bad” guys out, not allowing “good” guys in. This is very unlikely to change, because the threats aren’t even close to equal.

        There have been very few pilot suicides (and I count all the maybes as certain — especially since I had inside information on a few of those.)

        See my other post, below: The “second adult in the room” policy is probably the best one — though still not foolproof.

    2. Why depression should also lead to mass murder??

      This is the part that I can’t understand if, indeed, he was suffering from depression.

      1. Crazy speculation here — I read that he had recently broken up with his girlfriend. That could have been a trigger to enrage him though he seemed to have hidden it well). Killing all those people along with himself, and all the media attention that goes along with such a terrible tragedy, might have been a twisted way for him to get back at her and make her feel the most horrible guilt possible.

        1. Now that would be mentally ill thinking, but depression can occur without being caused or triggered by stressful life events. There’s no need to search for an alternative rational explanation if an actual motive for mass-murder is not in evidence.

          1. I understand what you’re saying. However, I meant that some life event might have triggered him *beyond* depression into this act of suicide and mass murder.

            The latest news reports have referenced possible work pressures, relationship problems, fear of loss of his dream career, etc.

  3. Some studies of people suffering from depression suggested that anger was a more common symptom of depression among males (see, for example, http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2005-13706-006). My own theory about this is that certain types of depression result from a feeling of helplessness/hopelessness, which results in anger directed at oneself for feeling powerless. And as we all know, anger felt toward oneself is often transferred outward to others. This is purely speculative, of course, but if the pilot was actively depressed and intent on killing himself, he may have chosen to do it the way he did out of anger. We have to remember also that patients who are severely depressed often suffer from distorted thinking that could easily make this kind of tragic action possible.

    1. Positive feedback loop, depression leads to feelings of helplessness/hopelessness leads to more sever depression leads to more feelings of helplessness/hopelessness…at least in my case, which often leads to temporary outbursts of frustrated anger. When I fee like this, the whole world shrinks to just what is directly in front of me, like I’m wearing blinders. I’m sure this is no different that when anyone else gets really upset, but with the added burden of depression and in my case anxiety, it makes the whole world seem unbearable. But, i’ve always responded to this by taking a nap. My motto’s always been that everything seems better after a nap and a crap. Not to make light of the subject, but that’s my coping mechanism anyway. What is most frustrating is people, like my mother, who says that I CHOOSE to be depressed or CHOOSE to be anxious. It never helps to open up to someone only to have them ignore, insult, or get irritated with you for it. probably why I prefer pets and houseplants to people. but I can’t say why anyone would want to take out a whole plane full of other people. that’s beyond me.

        1. I’m sure my mother saw something about it on D’Oprah or “Dr.” Oz, and of course she’s also tried to get me to read that crap book “The Secret”, face, meet palm. repeat as necessary.

          1. It’s great you’ve found a coping mechanism. It must help to know you have a way through when it presents. Having the ability to recognize your mother’s response for what it is is good too, although it must have been tough getting to that place.

            1. yeah, it works, mostly. unfortunately, I’ve not yet found a job that would allow me to take a nap when needed! insensitive jerks! If I could deal better with my anxiety, go out without the cold sweats, and be able to focus better under stress, I’d be in a better situation. but hey, it could be worse! (I’m in a good mood for the moment, or maybe that’s the wine talking) It was actually uncomfortable for me to even type my earlier post, so thanks everyone for understanding.

              1. I suffer from extreme anxiety, so I feel your pain.I am very unsure of myself in social situations, which is why hateful criticism over minor language nits from the SJWs absolutely destroys me.

                I also went through paxil withdrawal, which I took due to my anxiety.

                The withdrawal, from going cold turkey, was so horrible that I cried for hours over cold soup. I felt that it was the end of the world when that happened. I was also incredibly angry at the injustice of it all.

      1. No, we can’t choose or choose not to feel ANY feeling. We can only choose what to do once we feel it (and if our esteemed website host is correct, even that we can’t choose freely….)

      2. All of that sounded uncannily familiar quiscalus, everything down to the response from mum. It’s not easy to talk about, I’m very bad at it. Hope things are on an even keel at the moment.

        Anyway, I’m off for a nap:)

      3. Yeah, I get it. I feel for you.

        I’ve been reading up on various types of mental illness out of necessity (a friend involved), and often there is a dysregulation of emotions. Developing coping skills and getting into talk therapy are key to finding some measure of pleasure in life again. It’s good that you have found a way to deal with your challenges.

        I’ve found this site to be very helpful for me (as far as one type of personality disorder goes – not saying this is the case for you) as there are practical things that can be done to ease the pain and frustration of all concerned (the person who’s depressed and the family members and close friends). I just wish therapy were more readily available and were not so prohibitively expensive.
        http://behavioraltech.org/resources/whatisdbt.cfm

        I’d say we all are ‘touched’ even a little bit and most of us probably have experienced some kind of depression.

  4. “Why depression should also lead to mass murder??”

    As was commented in Dr. Coyne’s previous post on the issue, improper withdrawal from ADM can highly exacerbate the symptoms of depression, including overwhelming rage, total apathy and complete detachment from the well-being of other people.

    1. That was my comment. Anecdotes — we are told — are not evidence, but there are lots of anecdotes about rage being a side effect of withdrawal.

      News stories say the police found torn up doctors notes at his home that indicated he was unfit.

      I suspect there are thousands of pilots undergoing treatment for depression. Other than the no one alone in the forward cabin, I have no easy answers.

      If you are looking for contributing motives, I’d say the guy was looking at the end of his career, if he handed the note to his employer. That’s a catch 22.

      1. “That was my comment. Anecdotes — we are told — are not evidence, but there are lots of anecdotes about rage being a side effect of withdrawal.”

        I have never witnessed the rage, though I had already heard of it. Complete apathy and detachment from the well-being/lives of other people – even close family – though, I’ve witnessed first hand.

  5. I think the German airline should be held responsible for this mentally ill person flying one of their aircraft. This was an economy airline. How many corners did they cut to make their profits. I think we should have much tighter regulations on airlines and they must not be allowed to endanger public safety. This incident should be a warning to all of us and hopefully we take steps to prevent if from happening again. Mental illness is real and has serious consequences for the patient and those around the patient.

    John J. Fitzgerald

    1. In the US and EU, if they cut corners on safety then they broke the law and are criminally liable.

      It is a misperception that safety regulations and practices are slackened on discount carriers. That’s not how they cut costs. It is, primarily, an exercise in reducing labor costs by undermining the power of the unions involved*. Labor and fuel are the big cost drivers in commercial operations.

      (* I am a union supporter.)

        1. Yes, I am not very familiar with the details in Germany. Every situation is unique.

          In the US, the strategy has been:

          – Establish a second tier (lower paid) set of employees
          – Expand that segment as much as possible
          – Send heavy maintenance (and sometimes, local, light mx, using local contractors with non-union staff) to cheaper providers (they still have to be FAA or JAA certified repair facilities — my personal experience inspecting their work showed them to do excellent work) — again with non-union staff
          – change company policies around boarding, checking in, etc., CSAs, to eliminate as much ground staff as possible
          – Use non-union contractors wherever possible to allow cutting of union staff
          – Use smaller airplanes that are cheaper to operate (in many ways) and entail smaller rewards to the flight and cabin crews for operating them

          Some of these entail lowered levels of customer service and hence are generally relegated to the “second label” operator. (There is some loss of customer satisfaction in just using smaller airplanes, why not nudge it a bit more with other less customer-friendly and convenient ground ops policies?)

    2. No, the airline’s responsibility isn’t the issue here since statutory regulations on privacy and confidentiality of medical information would prevent them (and clearly has prevented them in this case) from knowing about the illness. Employers can’t be expected to just *guess* that one of their pilots has depression, and stop him flying until they *guess* he’s got over it. That would just be a recipe for employers being sued.

      Seems to me the answer is that exemptions to confidentiality are allowed to be made when the patient’s work involves responsibility for the safety of other people, in relation to conditions that might affect that person’s ability to carry out those responsibilities. That seems quite reasonable to me, and if made clear to all potential pilots (and people in other lines of work with similar responsibility) from the start of their training, any who object on principle would be weeded out from the beginning.

      1. “Seems to me the answer is that exemptions to confidentiality are allowed to be made when the patient’s work involves responsibility for the safety of other people, in relation to conditions that might affect that person’s ability to carry out those responsibilities.”

        Yes, this is the reporting system.

        If it’s completely voluntary now, that probably needs to change. The doctor apparently wrote the pilot a note excusing him from work — which the pilot never turned in nor took time off work.

        The doctors of commercial pilots, if they aren’t already, should (IMO) be required to report directly to the employer and regulator, if anything comes up that might impact a pilot’s ability to perform their duties safely. IMO, going onto ADMs or being diagnosed as depressed would certainly qualify.

        Now this raises the issues of pilots lying to doctors to avoid a diagnosis of depression, and its loss of working privileges.

        Pilots already have to pass periodic medical checks. Apparently in this case, that was insufficient.

        1. It seems to me this would lead to pilots avoiding any stigma of mental health issues, and hiding the problem. Mandatory reporting would probably give the employee a permanent stigma and perhaps ruin his or her career.

          Perhaps that was indeed the problem here.

          We know that depression is a fairly common problem, I imagine pilots are not more or less prone to it. We don’t see masses of pilots killing themselves and everyone else on board. Clearly accidents, bombs and takeovers are a much larger threat.

          If the problem is something like a brain tumor, then it’s probably so rare to be not even really worrying about.

          The reality is, depressed pilots are not all running to their jobs in order to kill their passengers, and mandatory reporting and the loss of hours or career is more likely to cause non reporting. Pilots in the USA under FAA rules are already subject to a case by case scrutiny. So in reality the pilots are already screened, and some number is hiding their depression. Never mind the number who don’t even realize they are depressed.

          Everyone always wants to pick out jobs that can effect the safety of the public, and pick out people like pilots, train engineers, truckers, etc.

          A cook at a high volume restaurant could sicken and kill hundreds with a mistake or deliberately.
          Farm workers, someone working in a water plant. A big rig trucker.

          Public Safety is always the excuse politicians give when they want to test the plebeians for alcohol and drugs, but they never want to test themselves. Never the people at the top of the chain who are most responsible for the safety of the public.

          Passenger vehicle drivers are far more likely to maim or kill any one of us at any particular time. Even if one pilot a year was flying into the ground with all passengers on board, it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to how many automobile drivers are using poor judgement because of depression, and wind up maiming and killing passengers and drivers.

          Using the logic of protecting public safety, anyone with depression should not be allowed to drive an automobile. They are far and away the greatest danger to the public.

          On the other hand, allowing pilots to get treatment without reporting is likely to get pilots into treatment, and get them better, allowing for safer transportation.

          1. This gets me to thinking about U.S. military pilots and submarine commanders toting nuclear warheads, not to mention other countries’ military services.

      2. I might point out that the American disabilities act forbids discrimination on the basis of mental illness and mandated accommodations.

        Most people with depression are successfully treated. Something on the order of one person in twenty has suffered from depression. I would bet the population of pilots reflects the general population.

        1. Piloting is not a right, it is a (very carefully controlled and vetted) privilege.

          They have to pass all sorts of medical tests that would violate the ADA. That law is moot in this case. (Combat soldiers, surgeons, fire fighters, etc. …..)

          1. I do not see any jobs as being “rights.”

            I understand racial and ethnic and religious discrimination, but what about discrimination based on ability?

    3. Pilots, generally, get paid by flight hour (usually from break release at the gate to brake set at the other gate*). Most pilots would fly more if the regulations allowed it. (Do people push limits to obtain more money? Yes they do — all the time.) Working pilots longer hours is not part of the strategy.

      (* They hate sitting at the gate just as much as the passengers do.)

      1. ” . . . usually from break release at the gate to brake set at the other gate* . . . .”

        But they apparently are not allowed to get off the plane until after passengers get off. Their meter should run until after the last passenger gets off.

        (For some reason Wal-Mart comes to mind.)

  6. As I commented on the other thread:

    The news are all reporting that the EU are going to adopt the “second adult in the room” policy of having a second person (cabin crew) in the cockpit when one pilot leaves — just a person for vigilance and to resist a problem should it occur.

    This is probably the best, fastest, simplest, lowest impact and most effective mitigation that can be implemented.

    It still won’t be 100% — nothing ever will be; but it strikes directly and the issue: A bad person’s autonomy in the flight deck. it is also an effective mitigation against medical emergencies and the “pilot locked into the lavatory” scenario (which has occurred).

    I think this is a wise step.

    Above, I commented that I was pretty sure it wasn’t a regulation in the US. I was wrong: Apparently it is (since 9/11).

    1. As soon as the cause of this crash was known, Air New Zealand also introduced a two personal on the flight deck rule.

  7. If an airline pilot is intent on committing suicide by means of crashing an airplane, he can always rent an aircraft to that end thereby killing only himself.

    The last time I rented a single engine Cessna in South Florida, it was no more expensive than renting a wave runner on Miami’s South Beach.

    1. but that would imply planning ahead. I don’t know, has there been anything to suggest this was planned? Bad day, fear over something that will or might happen in the near future, a fight, disagreement, or some other situation prior to or during the flight, then crash it out of impulsive fear, anger and frustration? I don’t know, we may never know, unless I’ve missed or misunderstood some of the information that’s been released thus far.

      1. Should we call it a suicide when the object is to call attention to one’s self by committing mass murder?

        Also, the co-pilot could have been hearing voices and following what he perceived to be a vocal command in which case it wouldn’t have been, strictly speaking, a suicide.

    2. Suicidial persons are not logical. As I wrote in another post, many suicides in Germany are committed by persons, who throw themselves in front of trains: A lifelong trauma for the train driver and the risk of derailment of the train with more casualities.
      The same is true for wrong-way drivers, who deliberately crashed themselves in another car on the autobahn.

      1. I think you may be right in many cases, but not in these kinds of cases., I think mass killings are rationally planned. The motive is not rational, but motives — good and bad — never are.

        Do not overlook the thing called rationalization. Conforming logic to motive. What seems to be the case here is a nice guy who did something terrible. Is there any reason to believe he was not compelled by and urge resulting from a brain malfunction. Something that did not disable his ability to plan?

        People do all kinds of planned things that are against their self interest. The rob to get money for drugs. the take drugs. The smoke long after they realize that smoking is harmful. They overeat. All these things involve rational planning and logical steps.

        I would say that anyone who has tried and failed to lose weight or stop smoking is in no position to judge the behavior of someone with a mental illness.

        1. “I would say that anyone who has tried and failed to lose weight or stop smoking is in no position to judge the behavior of someone with a mental illness.”

          How many airline passengers in the last couple of days have contemplated asking a pilot, “How are you doing today?”

    1. Well, made it easier for him. He could have wedged the door anyway, without the locking system. However, the strength of the door was key — and is just as key in preventing unwanted entry to the flight deck.

      I want to note that unwanted entry to the flight deck was very common before 9/11. It was the normal mode for all hijackers.

      What changed at 9/11 was the entry of suicidal terrorists whose motivation wasn’t monetary or political; but was, instead, martyrdom for the jihad.

      Hence the radical change in policy towards hijackers from cooperate to resist by all means.

  8. “.. if you’re a pilot determined to kill yourself that way, you’ll have to take others with you.”

    He could always have just crashed his glider and gone out by himself. Spinning a glider (a sailplane) in from 1000ft would be just as lethal. But then there would be rationality involved and it wouldn’t probably happen at all.

  9. I also want to point out that this shows clearly (unless some new, startling data come to light) that anyone, from any culture, can become suicidal in this manner.

    That said, the religious ideas of (huge) reward for jihad and martyrdom does make suicide-homicide more likely among certain groups (as shown by the data).

    As someone pointed out on the other thread — it’s not infrequent for angry men to want to take out others while killing themselves. Happens all the time in the US when angry men’s partners leave them.

    1. ” . . . it’s not infrequent for angry men to want to take out others while killing themselves. Happens all the time in the US when angry men’s partners leave them.”

      Yep, like that guy who took his child up for a plane ride, then crashed the plane into his ex-mother-in-law’s house, as referenced in today’s NY Times.

  10. What a tragedy. The pilot or should I say mass murderer was probably not in the right state of mind and he made a very poor decision to kill himself and everyone on board. No one knows the demons that this man was dealing with. But I sure wished he did not take so many others with him.

  11. In my experience, if you know you’re going die yourself, there is some comfort in a lot of other people going with you.

    During the Cuban Missile Crisis I was convinced Britain would be plastered with H-bombs. The thought that everyone around me was also going to die took away a lot of the terror and stress.

    1. Interesting. I don’t feel that way at all.

      I was once home alone, and the emergency broadcasting system interrupted the radio with a “This is not a test. Please stand by for important emergency instructions.”

      Followed by a couple of very long minutes of silence. A lot of things crossed my mind, but comfort at the thought of having a lot of company in death was not among them.

      Turned out to be a tornado warning for a neighboring county.

  12. Lots of outrage quotes from pundits about an ‘overreaction to 9/11’ being to blame, in that the doors are so impenetrable. There’s always a short-termist, reactionary element who are prepared to criticise and blame someone, regardless of the nature of the incident.

    This doesn’t seem, on the face of it, to have been a particularly foreseeable event but papers and news channels can always find someone willing to pin the blame. Never mind the new protocol on two pilots being in the cabin at all times, which would seem to be a pretty good solution, I also wonder about how many putative hijackings have been prevented by the knowledge that the cabin is so secure.

    Having some experience of depression, I nevertheless can’t imagine what motivated him to include almost 200 innocent civilians in his suicide. It’s horrifying and bizarre, and it feels like there’s some significant information on his motivations still to come..

    1. Have you ever stopped taking your meds? It’s a personal question, but I’m curious about withdrawal. Apparently some people have it and many don’t.

      1. The act is so extreme, it seems to me more like a psychotic break than depression. I don’t know if not taking one’s medicine could lead to that – unless he had a condition so severe but then I’m not sure how someone manages to hide that from everyone around them.

        Taking too much of the wrong medicine might put someone in a state, and it wouldn’t necessarily have to be anti-depressants or anti-psychotics. If he were abusing a sleep aid or something, for example, aren’t there cases of people sleep walking or doing crazy things?

      2. Yes. It was literally unbearable, although it’s likely that if I’d stuck it out things would have gotten better.

        But people are different, the relationships they’re in are different, environments are different, and, most importantly, there are different sorts of depression.

    2. Me too, and I agree. Murdering one person or 150 people would’ve been just as unconscionable in my depressed state as it is in my normal state.

      I keep thinking “there must be more to this” but also believe this is one of those events where we’ll never understand what was going on.

    3. Yes.

      Pilot suicide by commercial flight is an incredibly rare event. As I noted in the previous post: Around 1 flight in 93,000,000.

      It becomes really hard to justify hardware system-level changes based on such a rare event. (The lives saved have to be balanced against the lives lost in automobile traffic wrecks due to the increased cost per flight for the hardware changes.)

      The “second adult in the room” policy seems like an excellent and very low-impact first step. Maybe the best possible step to reduce the likelihood of similar cases in future (taking all costs into account).

      The next steps will probably focus on the reporting system for pilot fitness. Should doctors be required to report to the regulator (and employer) in all cases? If so, what are the implications of pilots lying to their doctors to avoid losing working privileges.

      The ripples of any change can be wide and unanticipated.

      I do not expect any changes to the cockpit door hardware (including the operating system).

      1. In today’s Independent: “Germanwings has a system where crew can report, without fear of punishment, their own health issues or perceived problems in others”. Pretty progressive stuff, although I doubt it’s there out of the kindness of the company’s hearts.

      2. ‘The “second adult in the room” policy seems like an excellent and very low-impact first step.’

        Will a flight attendant know enough about the operation of the plane to know it’s just been put on a ten minute gentle descent? Or some critical setting has been changed?

        On the other hand, the co pilot could have just tried to beat the pilot to death, or used a garrote, 24 inches of 100 lb test fishing line is easy to hide.

        It’s likely the co pilot was a coward and didn’t want to have to actually do too much, especially getting physically violent. If all he had to do was go into a gentle slide and not look into people’s eyes as they died, then he was probably OK.

        I think this is the same reason why the Chapell hill murderer shot his victims execution style in the back of the head, so he didn’t have to look them in the eyes, because he knew it was wrong and he was a coward. And that was another reason to keep the pilot on the other side of the door. It’s one thing to fly an airplane into the ground, it’s a completely different thing to wrap your fingers around another throat and squeeze the life out of them as they are kicking and flailing.

        This is very much an act of a coward.

        Lets face it, if the person is really committed, it’s not hard to kill a person who isn’t expecting it. A knife, a garrote, a fire extinguisher to the head. Sleeping pills in the coffee. People do it all the time.

        Clearly the pilot never had a clue this was coming. If it’s out of the blue, so would a hit to the head with a fire extinguisher. The other option is to spend your working career constantly on guard for your co-pilot killing you. Believe me, that would definitely provide some mentally ill pilots and co pilots in no time at all.

        A second person is probably a reasonable precaution against an opportunity taker. For a determined person, I doubt it would help.

        There will always be weak spots in security.

    4. I have had a very close member of the family, who I much later found out had interrupted his antidepressants on his own a few days before the incident, flirt with suicide by car crash with wife, son and mother in the car. No rage, just complete apathy. One moment he’s making small talk and the other he’s blindly zig-zagging a two-way curvy road until wife grabs the wheel and makes the car crash sideways into a road sign. To this day he says he doesn’t know what happened.

      1. I suspect if the effects of depression were the same for all people, we would be able to predict behavior better, and possibly be able to prevent suicides.

        What I see in this case is a positive feedback loop, where the illness causes the loss of a beloved career, which aggravates the illness.

        1. It could be the case, sure. All I’m saying is that overwhelming rage is not the only sympton that may lead a mentally ill person to (try to) kill himself and take other people with him. There are other symptoms that may cause such an outcome (exacerbated by inadequate withdrawal), subtler and harder to notice.

  13. A panic button available to the members of the flight crew that would engage the autopilot so the computer could fly the plane to safety would be the cheapest method to prevent this and other hostile takeovers.
    It could even be made to engage automatically any time that the aircraft deviated from the flight plan.

  14. [first apologies, I first posted this in the wrong heading, probably causing many people to (additionally) doubt my sanity. here goes again]

    What is going to happen now is a bunch of hinndsight and people deciding what should or should not have been done. But it’s mostly a blame game.

    Why didn’t they know? Why didn’t they do continuous psychological testing? (and the ever present) Why don’t we spend more on mental health treatment? yada yada

    Frankly, psychological treatment is such an inexact science, treatment is sketchy at best. Sometimes seems to work for a while, sometimes not. People often wind up going off treatment etc. There is no blood test for most mental conditions. Patients learn to hide symptoms if they need to. And extensive treatment did not prevent the Sandy Hook killings, or many other tragic events.

    But there’s the other side of the coin. People complain about the stigma attached to mental illness, and yes there is. But that’s exacerbated by what happens if one reveals his problems. Careers can be lost. It’s probably a very bad idea to go for an evaluation, because a diagnosis will follow you throughout your life. You never know when that will come back to bite you… it’s better to keep it quiet (unfortunately).

    Close to home, I know someone whose child was taken into custody after the mother had an alcoholism issue. Unfortunately the mother had also some years ago gone for mental health counseling, and had some tentative diagnoses, and this presents a much bigger legal obstacle to getting custody back than if it were an incident of drug or alcohol use (I was astonished). Right now she regrets that she ever went, or revealed that she went for treatment.

    Mental issues are a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

    1. Yes. It’s a very bad catch-22. I suspected depression in this case as soon as the police said it wasn’t religion. I reasoned they would not quickly rule out religion unless they knew the probable cause.

      But there is no easy easy to solve this. Except by noting it is extremely rare.

      I might note that there are other incidences of mass killings, and lots of people come forward with blame and proposals for quick and easy fixes.

    2. I’m constantly doubting everyone’s sanity, especially my own, but regardless of that your comment makes sense to me.

      Rushing into a mandatory reporting can cause it’s own can of worms that creates unsafe situations.

      1. I’d like to hear the various pilot associations’ specific, positive recommendation(s) about what to do about this.

  15. I’m pretty sure a traffic pilot license covers small aircraft, so no pilot would need to commit suicide-by-plane with passengers.

    The as of yet unsubstantiated rumor goes that the trigger was a breakup with his girlfriend, who shared his apartment.

    Safety will improve, but bad news added to the crash with its many victims is that the earlier company (Lufthansa, IIRC) that trained him and did know about his condition is sued. If that goes forward, it will be problematic for post-disease persons to become or stay pilots.

    I remember the drill for a sea pilot I met who had suffered one (1) epileptic attack. He had to do other stuff for 5 years before he could return guiding ships into harbors. (They did put him on similar, but small scale, stuff.)

    1. I should also note that like for cars (and probably other traffic), the accidents are dominated by driver errors, ~ 75 % for planes.

      Elon Musk has gone on record to note that the driver-less cars will soon make the lawmakers face the dilemma that it will be safer to remove the drivers altogether.

      However, like for plane crashes overall, the small frequency of remaining accidents but their severe consequences will, IMO, make autopilot crafts controversial.

  16. I don’t know anything about the laws here in Germany concerning confidentiality of doctors in a case like this where the patient is deceased, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe there are a doctor or two who have been staying up late and shredding some files.

    I’ve seen and heard of enough horror stories here of badly diagnosed — or variously diagnosed by multiple practitioners — and wrongly treated conditions, and people left, for example, to come off their antidepressants unsupervised, while suffering from severe alcoholism, with dependent children.

    Maybe I’m being unfair, or maybe I’m in fact stating something completely obvious, I don’t know, but this seems to have all the hallmarks of a botched treatment. I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but the bureaucracy here is really insane and once someone falls through the cracks in the system, the system here simply has no other way of dealing with it. So it doesn’t get dealt with, and no one is responsible. And if someone is trying to keep a condition secret, I can VERY easily imagine how that would work.

  17. ” … he is a mass murderer, perhaps the worst in modern German history …”
    Seriously? I guess it depends on your definition of “modern.” Mengele for example?
    I’m uncomfortable with a definition that in effect claims that my life extends back to ancient times.

  18. A cousin of mine was a Delta Airlines pilot. He committed suicide a few years back, after years of suffering from “untreatable” depression. It was “untreatable” because it would have ended his career in the air, had he disclosed his condition.

    We need to accept mental illness as treatable, such that those who need help are free to get it. Would he have committed “suicide by airline crash” even had he been allowed treatment? I seriously doubt it, but we’ll never know.

    Let us end airline bans against mental health care.

  19. A heart wrenching tragedy…it is now necessary to find out what went wrong and why. It appears prima facie that, while privacy laws prevented Germanwings from knowing that the co-pilot was declared unfit by his doctors for duty that day, this is simply an information that should have been made available to the employer in the interest of public safety.
    Its without doubt a costly and tragic lesson.

  20. Someone who wants to commit suicide and TAKE OTHERS WITH YOU. Doesn’t that sound like the religion of PIECES? There is also a rumour that he was a recent convert to Islam. Also ISIS released an article praising him? So I await for confirmation.

    1. I’ve just seen that too and wondered what it’s all about, if it’s legit. Only the one German article reported the notion that he had converted to Islam during that 6-month break during his training.

  21. Not sure how widely this is has been reported–

    According to Bild, the young woman, who was “very shocked”, flew with Lubitz on European flights for five months last year, during which time they are believed to have been romantically involved.
    If Lubitz did deliberately crash the plane, “it is because he understood that because of his health problems, his big dream of a job at Lufthansa, as captain and as a long-haul pilot was practically impossible”, she told Bild.
    The pair separated “because it became increasingly clear that he had a problem”, she told the daily, adding that at night he would wake up and scream “we’re going down” and was plagued by nightmares.

    http://www.thelocal.de/20150328/crash-pilot-told-ex-everyone-will-know-my-name-report

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