A motivation for the Germanwings suicide/murder?

March 30, 2015 • 10:15 am

My CNN news feed just sent me this:

The investigation into the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 has not yet turned up evidence that provides a motivation for co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who is believed to have downed the plane deliberately.

Before he was a pilot, Lubitz was suicidal and underwent psychotherapy, but the evidence so far shows no physical illness, Dusseldorf prosecutor’s spokesman Christoph Kumpa said today.

I’d say that mental illness and suicidal tendencies, even if not evident now, provides at least a conceivable motivation (perhaps the best one we have to date) for the deliberate crashing of the plane).  The New York Times adds a bit more:

The co-pilot of the Germanwings jetliner that crashed in the French Alps on Tuesday had been treated for “suicidal tendencies” before receiving his pilot’s license, the office of the German prosecutor in Düsseldorf said Monday.

The co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had been treated by psychotherapists “over a long period of time,” the prosecutor’s office said, without providing precise dates. In follow-up visits to doctors since that time, the prosecutor said, “no signs of suicidal tendencies or outward aggression were documented.”

As anyone familiar with suicidality long knows, you can keep those ideas to yourself, particularly if they might endanger your job.

67 thoughts on “A motivation for the Germanwings suicide/murder?

  1. I don’t doubt that played a part in his actions, but I am disappointed by the way the media (at least UK tabloids) has over-played the fact that he had depression and mental illness. I’ve lived with depression all my life and the only person I’ve ever wanted to harm is me. If he was simply suicidal, why take a whole plane full of people with him?

    1. Exactly. What I see is a lot of people who haven’t had depression describing what being depressed is like. It is gross.

  2. Not suicidal myself,thankfully, but in my experience, one does not have to try too hard to keep depression from others; they will actively avoid you trying to talk to them about it. It would not surprise me in the least if people who knew him came forward and admitted he often seemed a bit down but they took no real notice. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about life, it’s that nobody really gives a shit; don’t talk about yourself, talk about them instead.

    1. In group situations, there certainly is the appearance that most people do not help. In cases of public drowning or choking, one or two people will come to the aid of a person. Most people quickly identify aid is on its way and stand back. When alone, the option for helping is much different. People who would be reticent to help, do tend to help out if they are the only person around.

      Helping others is dependent on circumstances and not helping is not necessarily selfish and even worse with psychological problems, what helps one person is not as effective with helping another person. This pilot sounded like he had multiple issues.

    2. If he was chronically depressed, people may have thought is behaviour was just his normal state. It’s only those who are close to the depressed person who see the difference.

      1. I worked for a few months with a guy who killed himself (without endangering anyone else). Before I knew him he’d been in a nasty industrial accident (don’t know any details) and people said he’d ‘changed’ but he seemed quite normal (and certainly not strange) to me. Liked Pink Floyd (so do I). There was absolutely nothing to suggest he was unusually depressed. He left a wife and two young daughters, I would have thought he had a lot to live for.

        There was absolutely nothing to suggest to me that he might do anything irrational.

  3. My first thought when this accident happened was: Shouldn’t there be a way for people at the control tower (or elsewhere) to override a deliberate diving of the plane? A kind of emergency procedure whereby, if a suicidal pilot (or a terrorist for that matter)decides to down the plane, someone can push a button that will keep the plane flying in circles until further help arrives.

    Either I just had a brilliant idea, or this procedure already exists and I am just unaware of the caveats and intricacies involved in this latest incident.

    1. The obvious catch is: you need to be really really careful what operations are allowed by remote control, and be really really good with the communication security. Otherwise, a talented hacker could wreak complete havoc with air traffic.
      Even if you just allowed a “flying in circles” override, if a hacker got access to that, he could let the plane fly in circles until it runs out of fuel. Not much better than flying straight into a mountain…

      1. Yeah, but if an ubergenious hacker is capable of hacking the control tower, then he’s probably capable of hacking the computer system on the plane too. So that particular concern is rendered null right there.

        “Even if you just allowed a “flying in circles” override, if a hacker got access to that, he could let the plane fly in circles until it runs out of fuel. Not much better than flying straight into a mountain…”

        Except that flying a plane into a mountain can be done in 5 minutes, whereas flying the plane out of fuel would probably take many hours. Enough time for, upon a call for help from the pilot, authorities figure out a way to aid the hijacked aircraft.

        1. “authorities figure out a way to aid the hijacked aircraft.”

          Such as…?

          No, I can’t think of one either.

          1. Except – I’m not an expert but if instead the plane was fitted with an override that would allow the ‘authorities’ to control the autopilot’s heading select, altitude setting, and autoland (at any airport with the necessary navigational aids) then I think they could indeed land the plane remotely.

            I can see four problems: First, as has been discussed, how would the authorities know just when to take over? Second, how to make it ‘pilot proof’? Third, what if the override system gets a ‘bug’ and operates malevolently, sending the plane to a random disaster? And fourth, if a hacker could intercept the channel he could ‘do a 9/11’. (The fourth is probably the easiest to guard against).

      1. In this case I believe they did. Shortly after the plane was losing altitude they were contacting the plane.
        As for an override, well it will cost money and money does seem to be a factor.
        I am not sure how well a pilot could land a plane by remote control.

        1. Even if it’s a mediocre landing, give the alternative (diving straight into a mountain at hundreds of miles per hour), it would still be worth trying.

        2. For an over ride to work, the tower would have to have continuous data streaming of all systems on the aircraft, including video and audio. This pilot refused to answer the radio, the captain couldn’t alert the ground, so without that basic knowledge, how would the control tower be able to judge what is going on. Suppose there was system failure on the aircraft instead, over riding the pilot could have the exact opposite effect.

          Then who gives the orders? The flight controller in the tower would have to get authorisation from “upstairs” Precious time ticking away! Then you would need a pilot standing by in every control tower in the world – 24/7. At any one time there something in the region of 30,000 heavy jets in the air world wide. A minute number of them crash.

          Many More people died in car crashes driving inter state and intercity after 9/11 than would have done if they hadn’t chickened out of flying.

          1. FWIW, current-generation jets are capable of fully-autonomous landings at airports that have up-to-date navigation aids.

            Agree that they flying public still wants hands on the controls.

          2. “This pilot refused to answer the radio, the captain couldn’t alert the ground, so without that basic knowledge, how would the control tower be able to judge what is going on. ”

            I would say a sudden loss of altitude that is detected by the control tower, and that it’s not expected given the weather conditions, could be a pretty good signal that something very dangerous is going on. That and precisely the fact that the captain is refusing to answer the radio. These two occurrences combined should prompt the ground authority to push the overriding red button.

            “Suppose there was system failure on the aircraft instead, over riding the pilot could have the exact opposite effect”

            If it is a system failure that is causing the loss of altitude, then the pilot would could tell this to the control tower, and they could figure something out. This isn’t a challenge to my “remote override” proposal.

  4. He had at least two things to be angry about. One was losing a girlfriend. How many rage killings do we read about that involve losing a girlfriend (or boyfriend)?

    He was likely to lose his job.

    Not everyone reacts with rage, but then this kind of thing is rare. But not so rare that we don’t read about rage killings several times a year. I recent years we have mostly read about school massacres.

    I have read also that there is evidence he had stopped taking his meds. Or, for some reason, had a stockpile of them.

    1. It’s looking more and more like an emotional/psychological breakdown. Sounds like he had an anger management issue. Seems he had a pregnant girlfriend (the teacher) and another girlfriend (the flight attendant) who broke up with him.

  5. Behavioral manifestations of mental illness and its discontents. Although symptoms can be “clustered” and criteria for certain mood disorders exhibit common features along a spectrum, the randomness of emotional reactivity and one’s capacity for decompensating is impossible to predict.

  6. With all the additional information coming out now, on CNN and other media, I think the best outcome from this would be that the mental health side of the business needs a lot of improvement.

    Whether or not you specifically have experienced depression or any other mental problem is not really important unless you are in the business this guy was in. I want the pilot and co-pilot to have been fully checked out mentally and this should be done regularly with reports going directly to the company. Your personal rights have nothing to do with it.

    If you are a truck driver you should be drug tested on a regular basis. If you are an air force pilot flying bombers with nuks on it you should also get lots of mental testing.

    The lack of proper and complete mental health testing has caused lots of problem and it needs to improve. Personal rights, be damned.

  7. My wife (a psychiatrist) says depression does not lead people to kill others (themselves? yes). Thus, there is something more. The murder of so many people is like saying a big FU to the world and his employer. He clearly had other issues, but the depression is not what caused this.

    1. How about this person wanted to kill himself, commit suicide. But his choice of where to do it happened to be at work on the airplane that just happened to be full of people.

      Maybe it’s not depression, I don’t know. But why do so many who commit suicide take out family members, people at work, at school, you name it?

        1. Well, I’m sorry but I don’t see this as solving the problem or doing anything else. Surely all the surviving relatives of the 149 killed on this airplane might see little solace.

          1. True, but there is no reason to now believe that people with depression somehow constitute a threat.

          2. Just keep asking for more I suppose. We should all be greatly relieved because a psychiatrist says that depression is not a threat. Sorry but it does not make me sleep any better for some reason.

            Possible you did not understand the example above where the depressed guy killed a plane load of people simply because they were on the plane. I guess this cannot be either.

            Please stop the one trick pony.

          3. I’m sure you’d agree though that understanding the murder’s motivation – in hopes of society recognizing the signs and seriousness of the threat – is a key ingredient of preventing future catastrophes?

            It could be that “past” severe depression and/or suicidal tendencies are disqualifications for the position of airline pilot. I’m not convinced that is the case, of course, I’m just suggesting it’s the kind of policy that might have to be considered.

            Im not sure if “one trick pony” sums it up, but I do think “depression” is a very broad and imprecise diagnosis, and lots of clever people on the psychotic, bipolar and borderline personality spectra are capable of masking the depth of their dysfunction – in fact, it’s a survival skill and seems to be one the murderous pilot had mastered. If as a society we can’t be completely confident in our ability to diagnose and heal severe personality disorders, maybe we would be better off erring on the side of caution: there are plenty of ways for intelligent people to make a living that don’t put the lives of others at risk.

          4. What MooT said. Depression is just one symptom of a problem. It could be a big problem or a small problem. It’s not uncommon for ‘normal’ people, after a period of grieving, to fall into a depression after losing a loved one. Also, alternating periods of debilitating depression and euphoria/manic behaviour could be symptoms of a borderline or bipolar personality. In some situations, all it takes is a trigger for things to go dramatically downhill.

    2. Define “people.”

      Despite the fact that we read about massacres, they are rare. That’s one of the reasons they are news.

      To say that depression doesn’t cause something is simply restating the fact that massacres are rare.

      This guy had two of the life situations we associate with rage killings. Loss girlfriend and loss of job. Most people confronted with these don’t go on a rampage, but some do.

      1. The fact that a reaction to a life stress or a medication is rare, does not mean that the reaction cannot be a cause.

        Most people do not die from eating peanuts.

        1. That’s very well-put. I might go as far as to say those two personal crises amount to a loss of identity: a healthy (or even normally unhealthy) mind can take these as the temporary setbacks they always are, but a uniquely unhealthy mind is capable of all manner of dissociation and delusion.

          1. The teacher who left him says she did so because of his increasingly controlling behaviour towards her. That may or may not be because of a personality disorder, but that kind of person, especially if he has anger issues, is far more likely to be a threat than someone suffering from depression imo.

            I worry about the ongoing stigmatization of mental illness in our society. It prevents people seeking help when they need it. Most people with a mental illness are no more threat than anyone else, especially if they’re being treated and know how to manage their condition.

          2. Speaking for myself as a crazy person, I certainly think and hope that you are right. And as a not-that-crazy person, I am also mindful of my limitations: I stay away from firearms, will not ride a motorcycle solo and know better than to try to become an airplane pilot even though I love love love being a passenger on the last two.

            The elimination of the stigma about mental difference (it’s not always “illness,” I don’t think, definitely not in my case) is a welcome ongoing process – but for sure not being stigmatized must not be the same as saying everybody can do everything equally as well, as consistently or as safely!

          3. Yes, I should have thought of that. There are things like Aspberger’s for example, that, of course, aren’t an illness, but just a difference. And it is a spectrum, with a huge range of differences dependent on the individual.

  8. Just anecdotally, a person who is suicidal can even seem cheerful and upbeat for a time once they have decided that the end is near.

  9. As an aside, I’ve been curious about the apparent ease for authorities to diseminate a person’s, ostensibly private, medical records.

    Perhaps criminal investigation loopholes coupled with different laws in play explain this.


    1. They don’t have to prosecute, so there’s no way of biasing a jury. So far, most of what they’ve said is what they’ve found in his home. I don’t know of any release of medical records.

      The stuff found in the home is evidence he was being treated.

        1. Do privacy and doctor-patient privilege extend beyond the life of the person? I’m not sure that they do. I can see how the airline company and public agencies have a vested interest in showing that the fault is not with the plane or the safety regime, but in the end I think the present case is still an indictment of the vetting process as it now stands: by all accounts, the pilot was found exceptionally qualified when by definition he was not.

          1. Talking only the US now, there actually are still many federal protections in place for decedents when it comes to health records disclosure.

            There are also explicit allowances because of death … some of which do and do not require the involvement of executors/relatives.

            And then there are the individual state practice acts governing doctor/patient confidentiality which may or may not present challenges when it comes to actually obtaining records.


  10. There has been quite a bit of criticism in the UK from mental health charities & the Samaritans, a charity that deals with ‘suicide’, & pretty much all the major news programmes & papers seem to have trangressed their guidance in discussing this topic – for example talking about ‘committing’ suicide, when it is not a crime (altough killing others is). I think that they worry that if people are frightened there will be more chance that they hide these things as you say, & that others who can function normally (whatever that means!) in society will be victimised…

  11. The German Tagesspiegel reports that police have taken medical records from five different doctors’ that he had of his own initiative visited.

    I don’t know if this is beginning to hint at a rather complex and difficult to diagnose mental condition. It seems odd to have seen so many doctors, and it might have been more.

    1. He took the plane off of autopilot and began the descent. This procedure takes several steps. He also somehow nullified the security override to open the door from the outside. This could not have been an accident.

    2. Until the official enquiries are completed and reported, it is hard to separate wild speculation from fact, especially as at least some of the facts seem to have come from unofficial leaks. Having said that, it seems that the evidence for a deliberate crashing of the aircraft includes the fact that the captain of the aircraft was not able to re-enter the cockpit using the key-pad – implying that Lubitz had ‘deadlocked’ it from inside – and the fact that the controlled descent of the aircraft would have had to be deliberately initiated. These “facts” have emerged from press accounts and reflect the views of aviation “experts” advising the journalists reporting the story. They seem plausible to me but I suppose only the final conclusion of the official investigation will allow the removal of the quote marks.

        1. But then Lubitz should have opened the door when the captain banged on it.

          Unless Lubitz was somehow incapacitated, it doesn’t let him off the hook.

      1. This is why I’m really looking forward to the new mandate for Vice on HBO. They seem to really focus on important issues and go into the details and nuances. Hopefully their daily show will not be watered down too much.

    1. Can we go live to the correspondent on the spot for a comment on the fact that there are no new news?

  12. It seems to be getting a bit clearer. I guess this is in the English language papers too by now, but Der Spiegel reports that the last sick certificate for work was from a psychiatrist, and was related bi-polar disorder.

    1. If this is true, then this condition would have disqualified him from flying.
      ” The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had issued Lubitz a third-class medical certificate. In order to obtain such a certificate, a pilot must be cleared of psychological problems including psychosis, bipolar disorder and personality disorders. The certificate also means that he wasn’t found to be suffering from another mental health condition that “makes the person unable to safely perform the duties or exercise the privileges” of a pilot’s license. “)

        1. Thanks for the link, but I don’t see anywhere in the news article where bipolar disorder or manic depression is mentioned. Is your last paragraph from the article itself or from the televised statement to the media?

          1. Sorry, I was rushing to work and grabbed the wrong link. Here’s the right one, and a quick translation in case anyone is interested.

            Besuche bei mehreren Ärzten

            …So hatte ein Psychiater den 27-Jährigen zuletzt für fast zwei Wochen krankgeschrieben, wohl wegen einer bipolaren Störung, er war also offenbar manisch-depressiv. Nach Angaben der Ermittler zerriss Lubitz das Attest und trat seinen letzten Flug an.


            Visits to several doctors
            …One psychiatrist gave him a sick certificate for almost two weeks due, ultimately, to bi-polar disorder — clearly he was manic depressive….

          2. Thanks — I think google translate read it better than I did. I was partly trusting der Spiegel’s interpretation of the doctor’s wording. They seem to think the wording clearly implied bi-polar disorder. (And partly I misinterpreted the word “wohl” because my German is obviously much crappier than I thought!)

  13. Hypothesis. Yes he was depressed but if his former girl friend was telling the truth when she said that he wanted to be remembered what better way to die then and be remembered then to perform a ” gloriously evil deed” by taking a whole plane load of innocent people with you. His career as a pilot was coming to an end anyways. Why not die where he learned to fly, in his beloved Alps. A bit of evil romantic idealism. He couldn’t hide his lack of fitness to be a pilot forever and he lived to fly. In some people suicide is all about “me” and the rest of humanity is of a lesser concern. Empathy is absent when you turn inward.

    1. Ah, the old ‘Glamour of evil’!

      I don’t know if anyone’s publicly commented on his religious background, but I’m getting a catholic vibe.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *