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Co-pilot told Lufthansa of ‘depressive episode’

Roberto Pfeil, AFP file picture | Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr addresses a press conference in Cologne, western Germany, on March 26, 2015

Lufthansa said Tuesday that the co-pilot who is thought to have deliberately crashed a Germanwings passenger jet in the French Alps last week informed the company six years ago that he suffered from a “serious depressive episode”.

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The statement is potentially damaging for parent company Lufthansa and its CEO, Carsten Spohr, who said last week that the carrier knew of no reason why 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz would deliberately crash the plane, killing all 150 people on board.

The company said that as part of its internal research it found emails that Lubitz sent to the Lufthansa flight school in Bremen, where he resumed his training after an interruption of several months.

The emails informed the school that he had suffered a “serious depressive episode”, which had since subsided.

Lufthansa said earlier that Lubitz broke off his pilot training for a period of several months but then passed medical checks confirming his fitness to fly. It added that it had provided the relevant documents to prosecutors.

The revelation that Lufthansa officials had been informed of Lubitz’s psychological issues raises further questions about why he was allowed to become a pilot for its subsidiary, Germanwings, in September 2013.

Authorities say Lubitz locked his captain out of the cockpit before deliberately crashing the Airbus 320 into a mountain in the French Alps on March 24, killing everyone on board flight 4U9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf.

Dusseldorf state prosecutors said Monday that Lubitz had been treated for suicidal tendencies before getting his pilot’s licence.

They also found torn-up sick notes showing that Lubitz was suffering from an illness that should have grounded him on the day of the crash.

Germanwings has said it did not receive a sick note for the day of the tragedy.

Psychological screenings

Lufthansa is already facing unlimited liability for damages in the crash, lawyers said, and has told its insurers to set aside $300 million (€275 million) to deal with claims, recovery costs and the loss of the aircraft.

For Germanwings to limit its liability, it would have to establish that it and its employees and agents were not in any way at fault or that the accident had been caused solely by the fault of a third party.

Pilots pass psychiatric screenings ahead of starting training but annual medical checks do not include an in-depth psychiatric test. Pilots are expected to inform medical examiners at their annual checks of any health issues that could affect their flying abilities.

Psychiatrists and pilots have said there is no fail-safe test to spot suicidal pilots, but lawyers representing some of the families of victims of the Germanwings crash called on Tuesday for more regular psychiatric testing of pilots.

French air accident investigators also said on Tuesday that their probe into the crash would look at psychological screening procedures for pilots and cockpit access, the two areas where they are most likely to make safety recommendations that could affect the whole aviation industry.

“In these cases, when you’re acting for families, they’re keen to see that lessons are learned, that pressure is put on airline authorities to improve flight safety,” said Jim Morris, a partner at Irwin Mitchell, one of the law firms advising the victims' families.

European aviation authorities should consider whether pilots should be required to undergo regular psychiatric evaluations, the law firm said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

 

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