Germanwings Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz Appears to Have Deliberately Crashed Plane

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French prosecutor says pilot was intentionally locked outside minutes before the A320 crashed in French Alps with 150 people aboard.Barcelona’s El Prat airport was a scene of grief Tuesday as family members of the flight’s passengers arrived there.The co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 appears to have deliberately crashed the plane after he was left alone in the cockpit, according to a French prosecutor.

The pilot was intentionally locked outside minutes before the A320 crashed into an alpine mountain ridge, French Prosecutor Brice Robin said Thursday. Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, a 28-year-old German national, could be heard breathing throughout the plane’s descent and was alive at the point of impact, according to the prosecutor.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, French President Francois Hollande, center, and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Wednesday pay respect to victims in front of the mountain where a Germanwings jetliner crashed Tuesday, in Le Vernet, France.
Students place candles at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school in Haltern am See on Wednesday.

Mr. Robin’s initial conclusions are drawn from the plane’s cockpit voice recorder, recovered at the crash site in the French Alps late Tuesday and analyzed by French accident investigators on Wednesday.

The co-pilot’s actions during the final minutes of the flight could be interpreted as a “willingness to destroy this aircraft,” Mr. Robin told a news conference in Marseille.

Mr. Robin said the investigation was focusing on the personality of the Mr. Lubitz, who only joined the airline in 2013. The prosecutor added that no elements suggest the crash was a terror attack.

The voice recording, which lasts over 30 minutes and includes the crucial last 10 minutes of the flight, contains screams believed to be from passengers once they recognized the plane was crashing.

Investigators are now exploring why Flight 9525, which had 150 people on board, went into its unauthorized descent from its 38,000-foot cruising altitude with one crew member absent. The descent led to the crash about 10 minutes later.

The prosecutor said people at the crash site had started recovering remains of victims and were still searching for the second black box that contains information on the Airbus A320’s systems and can provide further clues as to what happened.

Both the pilot and co-pilot were trained by the airline. The senior pilot, who hasn’t been name, had been with Germanwings since 2014 after flying for Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, and Condor, another German airline. He has flown more than 6,000 hours, mostly on Airbus jets. Mr. Lubitz joined Germanwings in 2013 and had logged 630 flight hours.A photo released by the French Interior Ministry shows search operations at the Germanwings crash site.

Germanwings employees cry as they place flowers and light candles outside the company’s headquarters in Cologne, Germany.
The voice data recorder of the Germanwings jetliner that crashed Tuesday in the French Alps, after French investigators cracked open the plane’s badly damaged black box on Wednesday.
A helicopter of the French Gendarmerie takes off Wednesday from Seyne, France, for another search-and-rescue operation.

Protected cockpit doors have become largely standard in the aviation industry after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., when hijackers penetrated the cockpit and crashed the jets, causing the most fatalities ever in an aviation-related event. Regulators in most markets quickly moved to protect cockpits with secure doors.

Airbus won regulatory approval for its high-security door design in 2002. The door comes with an electronic entry pad that can be opened with a special access code from the outside, but the request can be denied from inside the cockpit by pressing a button within a few seconds after the request.

That is a security measure to prevent a person with knowledge of the access code being forced or coerced into opening the cockpit door from the outside.

When crew members try to access the cockpit from the outside a buzzer is triggered. Air accident investigators should be able to hear that sound on the cockpit recording.

Airlines in Europe have discretion over how they deal with one of the pilots leaving the cockpit. Lufthansa on Wednesday said that in certain phases of a flight, one of the pilots may leave the cockpit temporarily and that it is normal for the remaining pilot to be alone in the cockpit.

The revelation about the co-pilot came as the search-and-recovery operation resumed in the French Alps for the second straight day since the flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf slammed into the mountain face.

Members of the emergency services meet at dawn to start trying to recover the bodies and the remains of the Airbus A320 that crashed the previous day at the rescue center in Seyne. Officials said the flight was carrying 144 passengers and six crew members, and that all are feared dead.
A poster reading "Yesterday we were many, today we are alone" can be seen in front of a memorial of flowers and candles near the Joseph-König-Gymnasium secondary school in Haltern am See on Wednesday. Sixteen teenagers and two teachers from the school were assumed to be among the 150 dead in the crash.
Candles burn amid pins from airlines Condor, Germanwings and Lufthansa, from left, outside the Germanwings headquarters at Cologne-Bonn airport.

Helicopter flights resumed Thursday from the alpine village of Seyne near the crash site, taking mountain rangers, forensic teams and other staff to recover bodies and body parts, said Col. Jean-Marc Menichini, the region’s police chief. “The priority is now to evacuate the bodies,” he said.

Forensic teams mapped out and photographed the crash site, tagged fragments and body parts and began removing the first human remains on Wednesday afternoon.

Weather conditions have improved, making the search-and-recovery mission easier. The location of the crash, on a steep slope, still makes the work dangerous for the forensic staff and investigators, who were working with ropes and crampon shoes.

The local chief of high-mountain rangers, Yves Naffrechoux, said officials spent the night on site to secure the area. Police officers are guarding all access to the site from lower in the hills to keep trespassers and journalists away, Mr. Menichini said.

The crash took a heavy toll on Germany and Spain, which had the most nationals on board. Family members of the victims are being brought to the crash site on Thursday.

Wreckage and debris lie on the mountain slopes after the crash of the Germanwings Airbus A320 over the French Alps. The plane took off from Barcelona at about 10 a.m. local time on Tuesday.
A French civil security services helicopter flies near the hard-to-reach site in the French Alps.
French police and mountain-rescue teams arrive near the site of Tuesday’s plane crash.
Family members of the passengers of the crashed plane reacting at Barcelona's El Prat airport in Spain on Tuesday.
A student who knew some of the German students involved in a crashed plane, reacts during a minute of silence in front of the council building in Llinars del Valles, near Barcelona, Spain on Wednesday.
(Source: Wall Street Journal)

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