Germanwings co-pilot researched suicide methods, cockpit doors

Posted at 12:48 PM, Apr 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-02 12:50:31-04

DUSSELDORF, Germany — Analysis of a tablet device belonging to Germanwings Flight 9525 co-pilot Andreas Lubitz shows he researched suicide methods on the Internet in the days leading up to the crash, the public prosecutor’s office in Dusseldorf, Germany, said Thursday.

Prosecutor Christoph Kumpa said that on one day, Lubitz also “searched for several minutes with search terms relating to cockpit doors and their security measures.”

Police analysis of the correspondence and search history on the device, retrieved from Lubitz’s Dusseldorf apartment, demonstrated that the co-pilot used it from March 16 to March 23, Kumpa said.

The search history was not deleted and also revealed searches concerning medical treatment, the prosecutor said.

While cautioning that there are still many holes in understanding Lubitz’s motivation, the disclosures about his Internet searches show that he planned to do what he was going to do, a European government official with detailed knowledge of the investigation said.

In fact, the official said Lubitz’s actions in bringing down the aircraft amount to”premeditated murder.”

Lubitz is accused of deliberately bringing down Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps on March 24, killing all 150 on board. Investigators have since focused on his health as they try to establish his motivation.

In another key development Thursday, recovery workers in France found the second “black box,” or flight data recorder, from the Airbus A320, Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin told CNN.

It’s hoped the flight data recorder will shed new light on exactly what happened on the flight.

Source: Lubitz was seeing multiple doctors

It is becoming increasingly clear to investigators that Lubitz was “very afraid” he would lose his license to fly because of his medical issues, a law enforcement source with detailed knowledge of the investigation told CNN on Thursday.

It’s already emerged that Lubitz had battled depression years before he took the controls of Flight 9525 and that he had concealed from his employer recent medical leave notes saying he was unfit for work.

But the law enforcement source said that after a severe depressive episode in 2009, Lubitz relapsed with severe depression and stress in late 2014.

In the weeks leading up to the crash, Lubitz was shopping doctors, seeing at least five, perhaps as many as six, the source said, as he kept going from one doctor to the next seeking help.

The 27-year-old was having trouble sleeping, and one of the doctors he saw recently was a sleep specialist, the law enforcement source said. Lubitz apparently told some doctors that he was afraid of losing his pilot’s license because of his medical issues.

The doctors knew he was a pilot and gave him a “not fit to work” notice, which he was apparently required to give to his employer, even though he didn’t, the source said. Officials have found doctors handled the matter the way they were supposed to and found no negligence on their part.

Thinking he would stay home from work based on the sick notes, Lubitz was prescribed a lot of medication, including “heavy depression medicine” that would have been “very heavy” on the body and “critical to a pilot,” the source said.

However, the law enforcement source doesn’t think Lubitz was using the medicine while working, because investigators interviewed a pilot he flew with the day before who said he was “completely normal” with no problem whatsoever.

Inside Lubitz’s apartment, investigators found a couple of notes with only a few words, involving stress and his pilot’s license, the source added. He didn’t know if Lubitz wrote these down while talking to someone on the phone or wrote the memo to remind himself of something.

Lubitz told his Lufthansa flight training school in 2009 that he had a “previous episode of severe depression,” the German airline confirmed Tuesday. Lufthansa is the parent company of budget airline Germanwings.

Confidentiality issues

German officials announced Thursday that a new task force would look at issues including medical procedures for pilots and cockpit door locking mechanisms after the devastating crash.

The cockpit voice recorder revealed that Lubitz had locked the pilot, Patrick Sondenheimer, out of the cockpit before putting the plane into its fatal descent, said Robin, the Marseille prosecutor.

Cockpit doors on planes were strengthened following the events of September 11, 2001, making it impossible for the captain to force his way in.

German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt told the news conference Thursday that the task force would prioritize questions around the cockpit door locking mechanism and procedures for checking pilots’ medical and psychological well-being.

It would seek to move quickly, he said, but would not make rash decisions.

The head of the German Aviation Association, Klaus-Peter Siegloch, emphasized issues around confidentiality when it comes to a pilot’s medical records.

“The confidence our pilots have in our medical doctors is of high importance,” he said. “I believe if there is a lifting of doctor-patient confidentiality, then possibly pilots will not trust in medical doctors and that will make the situation worse.”

The task force will bring together government officials with representatives of the German airline companies, the German Aviation Association and the Federation of German Airlines.

Crash avoidance software?

With reports that Lubitz apparently ignored blaring cockpit alarms warnings to “pull up” as the mountains neared, there are new calls from aviation experts to develop and deploy enhanced crash avoidance software that could take control of an aircraft away from a pilot and steer it to a safe altitude.

The technology would work in a similar fashion to crash avoidance technology already used in automobiles if a pilot is incapacitated or ignores audible warnings.

The idea is not new. In fact more than 10 years ago following 9/11, Airbus, the manufacturer of the doomed aircraft, was working to d‎evelop aircraft crash avoidance software with tech giant Honeywell — in part to prevent jetliners from being flown into large buildings or mountains. But the project was ultimately scrapped.

Recovery workers believe they have now collected all the human remains from the mountainous crash site.

French President Francois Hollande, speaking Tuesday, said that it should be possible to identify all the victims using DNA analysis by the end of the week, sooner than authorities had previously suggested.

Officials dismiss claims of cabin video

French officials insisted Wednesday that claims by two publications, German daily Bild and French Paris Match, to have seen cell phone video showing the harrowing final seconds from on board the flight were wrong.

Prosecutor Robin told CNN that “so far no videos were used in the crash investigation” and urged anyone who might have such a video immediately to hand it to investigators.

Paris Match reporter Frederic Helbert told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he had watched the video clip “maybe about 100 times” and that it was the noise of people screaming that made the most impact.

An official with France’s air accident investigation agency, the BEA, said the agency was not aware of any such video.

Lt. Col. Jean-Marc Menichini, a French Gendarmerie spokesman in charge of communications on rescue efforts around the Germanwings crash site, told CNN that the reports were “completely wrong” and “unwarranted.”

Cell phones have been collected at the site, he said, but haven’t been analyzed yet.

Lufthansa CEO: ‘Deep sorrow’

A memorial stone set up in the village of Le Vernet, the nearest accessible point to the crash site, has become a place of pilgrimage for those with relatives and friends on board the plane.

A memorial service was also held in the town of Haltern, Germany, which lost 16 students and two teachers in the crash.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr expressed his “deep sorrow” and promised to help the victims’ families for as long as they need as he visited Le Vernet on Wednesday.

Email correspondence between Lubitz and the school discovered in an internal investigation, Lufthansa said Tuesday, included medical documents he submitted in connection with resuming his flight training.

The announcement indicated that Lufthansa knew of Lubitz’s battle with depression, allowed him to continue training and ultimately put him in the cockpit.

Lufthansa, whose CEO had previously said Lubitz was 100% fit to fly, described its statement Tuesday as a “swift and seamless clarification” and said it was sharing the information and documents — including training and medical records — with public prosecutors.