Today marks another sad day in the story of aviation as it was confirmed that 28 year old co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was the probable cause of Germanwings flight 4U9525 being deliberately flown into the French Alps on Tuesday with the loss of 150 people.
This tragedy comes as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370), thought to have also of been through the deliberate actions of one or both of the pilots, is still fresh in our minds with questions still hanging in the air about how it is possible for a pilot to block entry to the cockpit of his fellow pilot? Malaysia 370 also raised serious questions about how it is possible for all communications from a plane to be shut off – effectively cloaking the plane and making it invisible?
Given the advances in military listening technology – it is hard to believe that the final location of MH370 isn’t known to at least one intelligence gathering agency. However, any country with this specific information may be unwilling to provide such detail as it would compromise their secret data gathering sources and point to specific activity happening in that area which they were monitoring.
The big question arising from Germanwings flight 4U9525 and European air travel in general is why we allow one person to be left at the controls of an aircraft at anyone time? In America, at least, if one of the pilots is required to leave the cockpit – a senior steward is called to occupy that space – leaving two people in the cockpit at all times. Why have we been so lax here in Europe? Why did so many people have to die for such an easy procedure to be put in place?
What made Andreas Lubitz take the actions he did will be discussed, dissected and debated for years to come. The fact he did what he did is not just unforgivable but also the worst possible final action that anyone could take. To kill yourself is a personal tragedy, but to kill yourself and many others, whom have placed their full trust in you – is totally reprehensible and cowardly.
Andreas will never know the individual personal sorrow of the families of those who perished nor face the consequences of his actions. And maybe the media place too much focus on these killers. Maybe the real focus should be on the victims – and not the perpetrators. Do we need to know his name? Do we need to see his face? What of his family – how much privacy are they now entitled to?
What of the checks that are done on pilots? If someone is going through a difficult time which is causing them mental stress – what are checks and balances in place to spot such signs – but also, how are pilots treated who do suffer mental issues? How does the industry treat them?
Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin stated in a press conference that the blackbox audio recorder showed the Captain had left the cockpit, possibly to use the toilet, and was denied access when he returned. It was during the absence of the Captain that Lubitz manipulated the flight monitoring system that put the plane into a descent. “The action of selecting the altitude could only have been done voluntarily,” Prosecutor Robin said.
He then detailed how the flight commander was heard to tap on the door to demand for it to be opened and that several calls were made by the Captain to the co-pilot for access to the cockpit in which the Captain identified himself – but there was no response from the cockpit or co-pilot. However, the co-pilots breathing was clearly audible and the inputs required to keep the plane on it’s continuing decent meant that the co-pilot was not incapacitated and was indeed manipulating the plane.
Prosecutor Robin added: “The control tower at Marseille, receiving no response from the aircraft, asked for a distress code, and the activation of the transponder for a forced landing. There was no response. Air traffic control asked other aircraft in the area for a radio relay to try to contact the Airbus. No response came.
In further revelations about the last moments of the plane it was stated “Alarms went off signalling the aircraft’s proximity to the ground, and we heard the sound of violent blows as if someone is trying to force the door. Just before the final impact we hear the sound of an impact on the [rock] embankment. There was no distress signal, no ‘mayday, mayday, mayday’ received by air traffic control….I don’t think the passengers realised what was happening until the last moments because on the recording we can only hear cries in the final seconds.”
The fact this disaster has been caused by deliberate human action is probably the worst outcome of any possible reason. One man’s decision has lead to such grief, anguish and hurt. He may not be missed – but it is to the families of the dead who are sorely missed – that we have to give our thoughts to and feelings. As I watch the news coverage – the focus has shifted from that of the victims to that of the killer. Maybe we all have lessons to learn.
And, out of all possible circumstances that could bring a plane down – wasn’t this always a likely scenario?
Here is a video that details the workings of the cockpit door – which appears to be the barrier to the Captain being able to try and intervene forcing a different possible outcome.