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Germanwings co-pilot had 'suicidal tendencies' in the past

Oliver Berg, DPA/ AFP | Candles are placed in front of a black ribbon with the number of the crashed Germanwings Flight 4U 9525

The Germanwings co-pilot suspected of deliberately crashing a plane in the French Alps had been treated in the past for suicidal tendencies, German state prosecutors said on Monday, but noted it had been years since he demonstrated such behaviour.


“Several years ago before obtaining his pilot’s licence the co-pilot was in a long period of psychotherapeutic treatment with noticeable suicidal tendencies,” the prosecutors’ office in Dusseldorf, where the pilot lived and where the flight from Barcelona was heading, said in the statement.

Prosecutors’ spokesman Ralf Herrenbruck added that since then, Andreas Lubitz had not shown any signs of suicidal behaviour nor aggressive tendencies towards others in visits to doctors.

He did not say where this treatment took place. Lubitz trained to be a pilot both in Germany and at the Lufthansa training facility in Phoenix, Arizona.

Herrenbruck said that prosecutors would "not take part in speculation about the deceased co-pilot's motives".

Herrenbruck said based on the evaluation of medical documents and the testimony of people who knew Lubitz, there was still no indication that he had told anyone of his plans or left behind a suicide note.

"Nor have particular circumstances been identified in his personal or professional environment to offer verifiable evidence about a possible motive," he said.

Medical files did not point to any "organic disorder", he said.

Prosecutors have previously said that, when they searched his home, they found torn-up sick notes from a doctor, one of which would have kept him off work on the day of the crash.

Motive remains a mystery

Authorities believe, based on data from the plane’s cockpit voice recorder, that Lubitz locked his captain out of the cockpit and ignored his pleas to open the door while sending the plane into a fatal descent on what should have been a routine flight.

All 150 people on board were killed when the Airbus A320 plane flying from Barcelona to Dusseldorf slammed into a French mountain on March 24 near the Alpine village of Le Vernet.

The crash has prompted wide-ranging questions about Lubitz’s motivation, his mindset, aviation industry regulations – and in the minds of the flying public, concerns about air travel safety.

Lufthansa, asked whether the airline had been aware of Lubitz’s previous psychotherapy treatment, said only that all medical information is subject to medical confidentiality rules.

Asked about reports that Lubitz had problems with his vision, Christoph Kumpa, another spokesman for the Dusseldorf investigators, said there was no evidence showing that Lubitz had any physical ailment affecting his sight.

German aviation officials say Lubitz’s file at the country’s Federal Aviation Office contained a notation that meant he needed “specific regular medical examination”, but it did not specify whether it was for a physical or mental condition.

The US Federal Aviation Administration had issued Lubitz a third-class medical certificate. In order to obtain such a certificate, a pilot must be cleared of psychological problems including psychosis, bipolar disorder and personality disorders. The certificate also means that he wasn’t found to be suffering from another mental health condition that “makes the person unable to safely perform the duties” of a pilot.

Hundreds search crash site

Carsten Spohr, the CEO of Germanwings’ parent company, Lufthansa, said last week there was a “several-month” gap in Lubitz’s training six years ago, but refused to elaborate. Following the disruption, he said, Lubitz “not only passed all medical tests but also his flight training, all flying tests and checks”.

At the crash site in the French Alps, authorities were poring over DNA evidence that has been painstakingly collected from among the crash debris scattered across the steep mountainside. Their goal is to try to identify victims for the grieving relatives who have poured into France by the hundreds.

Workers with backhoes and tractors were laying down a road up to two kilometres long Monday to reach the remote crash site to help speed the investigation. To date, recovery crews have had to helicopter in and be tethered to local mountaineers to avoid slipping down the rocky, unstable slope.

France has deployed some 500 gendarmes and emergency workers to secure the crash site, search for human remains, examine evidence and help the traumatized relatives.

In the southeastern city of Marseille, Germanwings chief operating officer Oliver Wagner was meeting with victims’ relatives.

Wagner recalled a meeting last week in Haltern, Germany, with the parents of 16 high school students who had died in the crash, saying it was “certainly the saddest day of my life”.

“They asked ‘Why our children?” he said. “We don’t understand what has happened and why it has happened.”


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