‘Speechless’: Co-pilot deliberately crashed Germanwings plane, officials say

Story highlights

  • Marseille prosecutor says captain was locked out of cockpit while co-pilot was inside
  • Prosecutor says there was a “deliberate attempt to destroy the aircraft”
  • Friends and relatives of the victims are traveling to near the crash site in the French Alps

(CNN)Latest developments:

•10:04 a.m. ET: “If a person kills himself and also 149 other people, another word should be used — not suicide,” Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said Thursday.

•9:58 a.m.: Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, is providing “financial support” to relatives of the victims of Germanwings flight 9525, Spohr said . He declined to go into details.

• 9:56 a.m.: As a general practice, pilots in the Lufthansa group do not undergo psychological testing, Spohr said.

• 9:51 a.m.: Lufthansa does “not have any clues” about why the co-pilot crashed the plane that went down in the French Alps on Tuesday, Lufthansa CEO Spohr said.

• 9:47 a.m.: It’s not clear whether the Germanwings captain entered a code to try to get back into the cockpit, or whether the co-pilot in the cockpit had “put the lever on lock” that would have prevented the code from working even if the captain had entered it, Spohr said.

The co-pilot, 28-year-old German national Andreas Lubitz, had “interrupted” his training for several months and then completed it, which is not unusual, Spohr said.

Lubitz passed all flight examinations and medical examinations, and was “100% fit to fly,” Spohr said.

Full story:

It seems to have been no accident, officials said Thursday.

Information collected by investigators suggests the co-pilot who was in control of the Germanwings airplane when it crashed, killing all 150 people on board, was acting deliberately, the prosecutor said Thursday.

The co-pilot apparently “wanted to destroy the aircraft,” Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said.

Lufthansa officials are “speechless that this aircraft has been deliberately crashed by the co-pilot,” CEO Carsten Spohr said. The company owns Germanwings.

It’s unknown whether the co-pilot planned his actions in advance, Robin said. But the co-pilot, 28-year-old German national Andreas Lubitz, “took advantage” of a moment in which the pilot left the cockpit.

Screaming could be heard on the audio recording only in the last few minutes, and death was instantaneous for those on board when the plane crashed, Robin said.

The horrific description seemed to leave the prosecutor at a loss for words. It is not being described as a “terrorist attack,” and the killing of 150 people would generally not be described as a “suicide” either, Robin said.

Lubitz was not known to be on any terrorism list, and his religion was not immediately known, Robin said.

The picture of the plane’s final minutes comes largely from what was discovered in the mangled cockpit voice recorder.

The co-pilot “activated the descent” of the plane when he was alone in the cockpit, Robin said. That can only be done deliberately, he said.

The most plausible explanation of the crash is that the co-pilot “through deliberate abstention, refused to open the cabin door … to the chief pilot, and used the button” to cause the plane to lose altitude, Robin said.

The co-pilot was “fully qualified to pilot the aircraft on his own,” Robin added. The audio recording showed his breathing to be steady, with no sign that he had a heart attack or other medical issue.

He only had about 100 hours of experience on the type of aircraft he was flying, but he had all the necessary certifications and qualifications to pilot the aircraft alone, the prosecutor said.

The bodies of the Germanwings crash victims will not be released until all DNA identification work has been done — a process likely to last several weeks, Robin said.

Robin said he had told the families of the crash victims all the same information he was telling reporters at the news conference.

The families of the two pilots are also in France but are not in the same place as the relatives, he said.

Robin emphasized that his conclusions were preliminary.

Second ‘black box’ still lost

Finding the plane’s second “black box” will also be critical to understanding the mystery of what went on inside the jet.

That box, the flight data recorder, hasn’t been found yet, but Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said Wednesday that there’s a high probability it will be.

The mountainous terrain where the Germanwings jet went down is difficult to access.

Senior executives from Germanwings and Lufthansa are also due to give a news conference Thursday.

The Germanwings media office told CNN the captain of Flight 9525 had more than 6,000 hours of flight time. He has been with Germanwings since May 2014 and had worked with Lufthansa and Condor before then.

The co-pilot has been with Germanwings since September 2013 and had completed 630 hours of flight time, the media office said. The co-pilot had trained at the Lufthansa flight training center in Bremen, Germany.

A dangerous search

Relatives and friends of the victims embarked on an emotional trip Thursday: traveling close to the mountainous spot where their loved ones perished.

Special Lufthansa flights from Germany and Spain are taking relatives and friends of the victims to southern France. The airline has offered to take them as close to the crash site as possible “within the safety parameters of the investigation,” Lufthansa said in a statement.

They are first expected to stop in the town of Le Vernet for a “moment of reverence,” Seyne-les-Alpes Mayor Francis Hermitte said.

They will then carry on to the village of Seyne-les-Alpes, which has become a staging post for the recovery operation. A further ceremony is expected there, Hermitte said.

He said he anticipated 200 to 300 people would come to the area Thursday, not just relatives of the victims but also people close to the families.

Most are not expected to stay overnight, he said. But in case they do, he said, local residents have spontaneously offered accommodations for them to stay.

While some human remains have been recovered from the crash scene, many have not. And the task is treacherous for search crews.

The plane crashed in the French Alps, where slopes are steep and the weather has been icy.

The only way workers could get to the site was to drop from helicopters. Jouty, the head of the French team leading the investigation, said they had to be together for safety.

Victims from 18 countries

The doomed flight was traveling from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany, when it crashed Tuesday.

Germanwings said the plane reached its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, and then dropped for about eight minutes. The plane lost contact with French radar at a height of about 6,000 feet. Then it crashed.

There were 150 people from 18 countries on board.

Teams have begun the daunting task of identifying the victims’ bodies but caution that it could take time to complete.

Mother, daughter from Virginia among the victims

Clues in the debris

Investigators are still trying to piece together what caused the crash.

Remi Jouty, head of the BEA, the French aviation investigative arm leading the probe, said the debris suggests the plane hit the ground and then broke apart, instead of exploding in flight.

Radar followed the plane “virtually to the point of impact,” Jouty said.

FBI agents based in France, Germany and Spain are looking through intelligence sources and cross-referencing the passenger manifest, two senior law enforcement officials said.

So far, one official said, the search hasn’t turned up anything that “stands out” or anything linking the passengers to criminal activity.

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