On the morning of March 22, 2015, Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed into a mountainside in the French Alps, killing all on board. Investigators have determined that the flight’s co-pilot, 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz, locked himself in the cockpit of the Airbus A320-200 plane after the flight captain excused himself to use the restroom and deliberately steered the plane on a course for destruction, taking his own life and the lives of 149 others aboard the plane.
In the weeks since the crash, we have learned a lot about how the crash occurred, but we still are no closer to understanding why…why was a co-pilot with a history of mental illness considered fit to fly? What specific health problems was he suffering from? Did Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, ignore all the red flags in Lubitz’s medical history?
Here’s what we know thus far about the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash:
The flight departed from Barcelona’s El Prat Airport at 10:01 a.m. bound for Dusseldorf Airport. Gate to gate, the flight was only supposed to take an hour and 20 minutes.
Once the plane reached a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, Captain Patrick Sondenheimer left the cockpit briefly to use the restroom. When he returned, he found that Lubitz had locked him out. The plane began to descend. Sondenheimer knocked and tried using the intercom to get Lubitz to open the door. He even tried to break the door down, but there was nothing he could do.
Air traffic controllers who tried to communicate with Lubitz were met only with steady breathing, nothing else as the plane continued to descend. Just before the impact, the cockpit voice recorder picked up the screams of passengers.
Officials say 72 victims were German and 51 were Spanish. The U.S. State Department put out a statement saying three U.S. citizens were killed in the crash. The other victims were from Argentina, Kazakhstan, U.K., Australia, Colombia, Mexico, Iran, Japan, Venezuela, Morocco, Netherlands, Israel, Denmark, Chile, and Belgium.
In the days after the crash, investigators found a doctor’s note in a trash bin in Lubitz’s apartment declaring the co-pilot ‘unfit for work.’ Investigators later found antidepressants in his residence.
Looking into Lubitz’s medical history, investigators found that he was treated for suicidal tendencies before he began training as a commercial pilot. In 2009, he left flight school for several months and later disclosed that he had experienced a previous episode of severe depression.
It appears that Lufthansa knew Lubitz had suffered from depression, raising questions about the company’s screening process and whether it will face legal action.
What Happens Now?
In his blog, Baum Hedlund Aviation attorney Ron Goldman insists that much more can be done to prevent future tragedies like this. For instance, better medical and psychological screening, and monitoring, of commercial airline pilots. Goldman suggests making it a condition of employment that an applicant pilot waives his or her right to privacy over his or her medical records “to the extent that a pilot seeks treatment for an illness that could affect the ability to fly safely.” Undoubtedly, airlines across the globe will make safety changes in response to this tragedy. Hopefully, the changes will be enough to drastically reduce the odds of having another crazed pilot alone at the controls.