German crash pilot hid his illness from airline

 Police officers in front of the house in Montabaur, soutwestern Germany, where co-pilot Andreas Lubitz lived. PHOTO | PATRIK STOLLARZ

Police officers in front of the house in Montabaur, soutwestern Germany, where co-pilot Andreas Lubitz lived. PHOTO | PATRIK STOLLARZ |  AFP

By AFP
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DUESSELDORF

The Germanwings co-pilot who flew his Airbus into the French Alps, killing all 150 aboard, hid a serious illness from the airline, prosecutors said Friday amid reports he was severely depressed.

The black box voice recorder indicates that Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked his captain out of the cockpit on Tuesday and deliberately sent Flight 4U 9525 crashing into a mountainside, French officials say, in what appears to have been a case of suicide and mass murder.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said “everything is pointing towards an act that we can’t describe: criminal, crazy, suicidal.”

German prosecutors revealed Friday that searches of Lubitz’s homes netted “medical documents that suggest an existing illness and appropriate medical treatment”, including “torn-up and current sick leave notes, among them one covering the day of the crash”. They did not specify the illness.

But Bild daily earlier reported that Lubitz sought psychiatric help for “a bout of serious depression” in 2009 and was still getting assistance from doctors.

The paper also cited security sources as saying that Lubitz and his girlfriend were having a “serious crisis in their relationship” that left him distraught.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said Lubitz had suspended his pilot training, which began in 2008, “for a certain period”, before restarting and qualifying for the Airbus A320 in 2013.

SUICIDE NOTE

Lubitz lived with his parents in his small home town of Montabaur in the Rhineland and kept an apartment in Duesseldorf, the city where his doomed plane was bound on Tuesday.

Prosecutors said the evidence found in the two homes “backs up the suspicion” that Lubitz “hid his illness from his employer and his colleagues”.

They said they had not found a suicide note, confession or anything pointing to a “political or religious” motive.

Lubitz locked himself in the cockpit when the captain went out to use the toilet, then refused his colleague’s increasingly desperate attempts to get him to reopen the door, French prosecutor Brice Robin said.

According to Bild, the captain even tried using an axe to break through the armoured door as the plane was sent into its fatal descent by Lubitz.

The tragedy has already prompted a shake-up of safety rules, with several airlines, including German companies, announcing a new policy requiring there always be two people in the cockpit.

In the northwestern town of Haltern, which lost 16 students and two teachers who were returning from a school exchange, the revelations prompted shock and rage.

The principal of the stricken school, Ulrich Wessel, said “what makes all of us so angry (is) that a suicide can lead to the deaths of 149 other people.”

Meanwhile, in Montabaur, Mayor Edmund Schaaf urged reporters encamped in the community to show restraint with Lubitz’s parents. “Regardless of whether the accusations against the co-pilot are true, we sympathise with his family and ask the media to be considerate,” he said.

Investigators say Lubitz’s intention was clear because he operated a button sending the plane into a plunge.

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