Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

Alps crash 'beyond worst nightmare'

The French Alps plane disaster has taken a dramatic turn after black box recordings pointed to the co-pilot deliberately crashing the Airbus A320 into the mountains.

French prosecutors said that, according to evidence from the recovered cockpit voice recorder, co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, 28, had deliberately put the Germanwings-operated plane into a descent after the captain had left the cockpit.

He had then repeatedly refused to allow the captain back into the cockpit, with the captain being heard pounding on the door in a desperate attempt to break in.

Mr Lubitz had then failed to respond to any communication from the ground or from other aircraft in the vicinity. Breathing was heard coming from home right up until the moment of impact.

The recording also suggests the passengers were unaware of what was happening until the final moments, when their screams can be heard.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said: "The most probable interpretation is that the co-pilot refused to open the cockpit door to the pilot and actioned the button which started the descent procedure.

"We can only deduce that it destroyed this plane."

All 150 people on board, including three Britons, died in the crash last Tuesday.

Carsten Spohr, chief executive of Lufthansa, Germanwings' parent company, said the incident was "beyond our worst nightmares".

He said Mr Lubitz's previous performance had been "without any criticism".

The cockpit voice recording revelations led to the spotlight being thrown on the fact that Mr Lubitz's training had been interrupted for a long period.

He had been employed as a flight attendant when he first tried to become a pilot in 2008 after waiting for eight months, but did not start working as a first officer for Lufthansa until September 2013.

Mr Spohr, said: "The co-pilot interrupted his training for six years, I would be interested to know why.

"I cannot tell you anything about the reasons of this interruption, but anybody who interrupts the training has to do a lot of tests so the competence and fitness would be checked again."

Matthias Gebauer, chief correspondent for the online edition of German newspaper Der Spiegel, newspaper, tweeted: "Schoolmates of co-pilot who crashed tell German reporters he took six-months break from flight training in 2009 due to burnout-syndrome."

Mr Robin's startling account of the plane's final half hour showed that for the first 20 minutes the two pilots talked in a normal fashion and were as courteous as two pilots would be.

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

The captain is then heard asking the co-pilot to take over and the sound of a chair being pushed back and a door being closed is heard.

It was assumed that the captain had gone to the toilet, leaving the co-pilot in charge of the plane.

Mr Robin went on: "The co-pilot uses the flight monitoring system to start the descent of the plane. This can only be done voluntarily, not automatically.

"We hear several cries from the captain asking to get in. Through the intercom system he identifies himself - but there is no answer. He knocks on the door and asks for it to be opened - but there is no answer."

Mr Robin said that after entry to the cockpit was denied, the sound of breathing from inside the cockpit was heard and this sound carried on until the moment of impact.

"The co-pilot was still alive at this point," Mr Robin said.

He said there was no distress signal, no Mayday and no answer despite numerous calls to the plane from ground controllers.

The cockpit voice recorder also shows that there were alarm signals going off, indicating the proximity of the ground.

Speaking about whether the passengers realised what was happening, Mr Robin said: "I think the victims only realised at the last moment because on the recording we only hear the screams on the last moments of the recording."

He added: "I believe that we owe the families the transparency of what the investigation is pointing to and what is going on, we owe it to them to tell them what happened.

"The families have been informed of everything I just told you."

Asked about Mr Lubitz's ethnicity, Mr Robin said: "He was a German national and I don't know his ethnic background.

"He is not listed as a terrorist, if that is what you are insinuating."

Pressed on the co-pilot's religion, he said: "I don't think this is where this lies. I don't think we will get any answers there."

He said German authorities were taking charge of the investigation of Mr Lubitz.

Speaking in Cologne, Mr Spohr said that, irrespective of all the sophisticated safety devices, "you can never exclude such an individual event", adding "no system in the world could manage to do that".

He added: "We can only speculate what might have been the motivation of the co-pilot. In a company that prides itself on its safety record, this is a shock. We select cockpit personnel carefully."

Acquaintances in Mr Lubitz's home town of Montabaur in western Germany said he was happy and had showed no signs of depression when they last saw him.

One described him as quiet but friendly.

British airline pilots' association Balpa said pilots would want to work with all the authorities to ensure lessons were learned from the tragedy.

German chancellor Angela Merkel said "Today's news is an additional strain on the families in this hour of suffering. In these days of suffering our thoughts are especially with them again."

Downing Street said David Cameron was being kept up to date with the latest developments and an Air Accidents Investigation Branch official was heading to France.

There were calls by aviation security experts for airlines to ensure that two pilots were in the cockpit at all times. Budget carrier easyJet said that from tomorrow this two-pilot rule would be introduced on its planes.

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority said it had contacted all UK operators to require them to review all relevant procedures.


From Belfast Telegraph