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France plane crash: Germanwings co-pilot deliberately destroyed plane, as passengers screamed

By Claire Cromie

The co-pilot of the Germanwings plane that crashed into the French Alps appeared to deliberately "destroy the plane", the French prosecutor has said.

Andreas Lubitz, a German national, was alone at the controls of the Airbus A320 - and he was conscious until the impact of it crashing into the mountains.

He intentionally started the doomed descent while the captain was locked out, said Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, citing information from the "black box" voice recorder.

Passengers could be heard screaming just before the crash.

Mr Robin said pounding could be heard on the door during the final minutes before the crash as alarms sounded.

The co-pilot "voluntarily" refused to open the door and his breathing was normal throughout the final minutes of the flight, he said.

Silence

Mr Robin identified the co-pilot as a German national who had never been flagged as a terrorist.

The co-pilot did not say a word once the captain left the cockpit.

"It was absolute silence in the cockpit," said Mr Robin.

He said the co-pilot's responses, initially courteous, became "curt" when the captain began the mid-flight briefing on the planned landing.

Mr Robin said German authorities were taking charge of the investigation of Lubitz. He refused to give details on his religion, saying: "I don't think it's necessarily what we should be looking for."

Mr Robin said work on identifying the remains of the 150 victims has begun.

'Co-pilot happy'

In the German town of Montabaur, acquaintances of Andreas Lubitz said he was in his late 20s and showed no signs of depression when they saw him last autumn.

"He was happy he had the job with Germanwings and he was doing well," said a member of a glider club, Peter Ruecker, who watched him learn to fly. "He gave off a good feeling."

Lubitz had obtained his glider pilot's license as a teenager and was accepted as a Lufthansa pilot trainee after finishing a tough German college preparatory school, Mr Ruecker said. He described Lubitz as a "rather quiet" but friendly young man.

The Airbus A320, on a flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, began to descend from cruising altitude after losing radio contact with ground control and slammed into the remote mountain on Tuesday morning, killing all 150 people on board.

Lufthansa has not identified the pilots but said the co-pilot joined Germanwings in September 2013, directly after training, and had flown 630 hours.

The captain had more than 6,000 hours of flying time and been a Germanwings pilot since May 2014, having previously flown for Lufthansa and Condor, Lufthansa said.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said he was "shocked by the latest details provided by investigators". He said once again he sends "an emotional embrace to the families" of those who died, 50 of whom were Spanish.

Germany's top security official said there are "no indications of any kind of terrorist background" to the crash.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said German authorities checked intelligence and police databases on the day of the crash, and Lufthansa told them regular security checks turned up nothing untoward on the co-pilot.

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