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Crash pilot 'sped up plane descent'

Published 03/04/2015

Mountain troops park their vehicle before heading to the crash site in Seyne-les-Alpes, France (AP)
Mountain troops park their vehicle before heading to the crash site in Seyne-les-Alpes, France (AP)

The co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings flight repeatedly sped up the plane as he used the automatic pilot to descend the A320 into the Alps, the French air accident investigation agency said today.

The chilling new detail from the BEA agency is based on an initial reading of the plane's black box data recorder, found blackened and buried at the crash site yesterday.

It strengthens investigators' initial suspicions that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally destroyed the plane - though prosecutors are still trying to figure out why.

All 150 people aboard Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf were killed in the March 24 crash.

The BEA said the preliminary reading of the data recorder shows that the pilot used the automatic pilot to put the plane into a descent and then repeatedly during the descent adjusted the automatic pilot to speed up the plane.

The agency says it will continue studying the black box for more complete details of what happened.

Based on recordings from the plane's other black box, the cockpit voice recorder, investigators say Lubitz locked the pilot out of the cockpit and deliberately crashed.

Lubitz spent time online researching suicide methods and cockpit door security in the week before crashing Flight 9525, prosecutors said yesterday - the first evidence that the fatal descent may have been a premeditated act.

German prosecutors have said Lubitz's medical records from before he received his pilot's licence referred to "suicidal tendencies" and Lufthansa, Germanwings' parent company, said it knew six years ago that Lubitz had had an episode of "severe depression" before he finished his flight training.

In Marseille, prosecutor Brice Robin underlined French investigators' conviction that he was conscious until the moment of impact and appears to have acted repeatedly to stop an excessive speed alarm from sounding.

Mountain officers and trained dogs are continuing to search the crash site. When the terrain is fully cleared of body parts and belongings, a private company will take out the large airplane debris.

Hundreds of victims' relatives have travelled to the region, officials say.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, visiting the area today in a visibly sombre mood, praised residents who opened up their homes to grieving relatives as well as police and others behind the recovery efforts.

"No one is ever prepared to face such an event," he said. "And yet immediately, a show of solidarity got organised - one of an entire region, the beautiful solidarity of people from the mountains; the one also through the state services."

Separately, the Paris prosecutor's office announced it is looking into claims that information from the earliest phase of investigation into the crash was wrongly leaked to the media.

The prosecutor's probe follows a lawsuit filed last week by SNPL, France's leading pilots union over the leaks. The suit doesn't name an alleged perpetrator, a method in French law that leaves investigators to determine who is at fault.

The union is claiming a violation of French law about keeping information secret about ongoing investigations. Many pilots fear that details about the crash could damage public trust in an industry whose image has already been jolted by a string of recent incidents, like the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 a year ago.

Lubitz, 27, spent time online researching suicide methods and cockpit door security in the week before crashing Flight 9525, prosecutors said yesterday - the first evidence that the fatal descent may have been a premeditated act.

German prosecutors say Lubitz's medical records, from before he received his pilot's license, had referred to "suicidal tendencies." Lufthansa, Germanwings' parent company, said it knew six years ago that he had had an episode of "severe depression" before he finished his flight training.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin says his investigation is focusing on France for now, but he has filed a formal request for judicial cooperation from Germany that could expand the scope of his probe.

He said French investigators believe that Lubitz was conscious until the moment of impact, and appears to have acted repeatedly to stop an excessive speed alarm from sounding.

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