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Germanwings Co-Pilot Should Have Been Out Sick

  • VOA News

The co-pilot believed to have deliberately crashed a Germanwings passenger jet into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board, was supposed to be on sick leave the day of the crash but hid evidence of his illness from his employer, German prosecutors said Friday.

Torn-up doctor's notes were found in a search of 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz's homes in two German cities, including one excusing him from work the day of the crash.

FILE - Andreas Lubitz runs the Airportrace half marathon in Hamburg in this Sept. 13, 2009 file photo.

FILE - Andreas Lubitz runs the Airportrace half marathon in Hamburg in this Sept. 13, 2009 file photo.

A statement from prosecutors said found medical documents indicated "an existing illness and appropriate medical treatment." The statement did not disclose what the illness was. Media reports have suggested Lubitz suffered from depression, but a Dusseldorf hospital that last saw Lubitz on March 10 for a diagnosis denied he was treated there for depression.

German authorities said they found no suicide note or evidence of political or religious motivation for the crash.

In France on Friday, officials said they had recovered between 400 and 600 body parts from the crash site. None of the bodies was found intact.

On Thursday, French prosecutor Brice Robin said in a televised news conference that Lubitz appeared to have engineered the crash after locking the pilot out of the cockpit.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called on Germanwings' parent company, Lufthansa, to reveal as much information as possible to help the public understand why the co-pilot might have crashed the plane.

Lufthansa implements new rules

Lufthansa announced Friday that it would implement new rules requiring two crew members to be in the cockpit at all times. Europe's aviation safety agency recommended that all airlines adopt the standard.

The U.S. has required at least two people inside the cockpit of an airborne plane since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A member of the flight crew must stand in if a pilot needs to leave.

Other airlines have taken similar action, including Air Canada, which announced a new protocol Thursday immediately mandating two people in a cockpit at all times during a flight.

Prosecutor Robin said the plane's cockpit voice recorder indicated Lubitz, alone with the controls, manually sent the Airbus A-320 jetliner into a gradual eight-minute final descent at 700 kilometers an hour.

Co-pilot's homes searched

German police Friday searched the two homes where the co-pilot stayed when not flying: an apartment he kept in Dusseldorf, and his parents' home in the small German town of Montabour.

Officials said Lubitz was not on any terrorist watch lists.

But German media reported that Lubitz had taken time off work in the past for "burnout" or depression.

Mattias Gebauer, chief online correspondent for the German newspaper Der Spiegel, on Friday quoted classmates of Lubitz as saying he had taken a six-month break from flight training in 2009 because of "burnout." The German paper Bild backed that report, saying Lubitz had been getting medical help for depression.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr has said he would not know if medical issues caused Lubitz's break in training, because German privacy rules prevent such disclosures from becoming public. He said Lubitz's medical tests indicated he was "100 percent fit to fly" with no restrictions.

The airline is likely to face liability claims from the families of those who died in the crash. An international agreement limits compensation to about $157,000 per passenger, but if the carrier is proven negligent, relatives could pursue a higher payout.

Prosecutor Robin said the cockpit recordings showed that passengers were not aware of the plane's deadly trajectory until just moments before the crash, when screams can be heard.

Robin said the recording also indicated that the commanding pilot — who most likely had left the controls to use the restroom — repeatedly pounded on the cockpit door to try to gain re-entry. His efforts were greeted with complete silence, and Robin said the only sound coming from behind the locked, reinforced cockpit door during the descent was Lubitz's breathing.

"The breathing is not panting. It's a classic human breathing," Robin said, adding that preliminary findings did not show any links between the crash and terrorism.

Flight 9525 was bound from Barcelona, Spain, to the German city of Dusseldorf, with 144 passengers and six crew, when it crashed about 100 kilometers north of the French Riviera city of Nice. People from at least 18 countries were aboard the flight, with 72 Germans and at least 35 Spaniards among the casualties.

There were no distress calls from the aircraft during the descent.

The prosecutor said Lubitz had flown the A-320 "a few months," about 100 hours "on this type of plane." Lufthansa said Lubitz had only 630 hours of overall flight experience, compared with the commanding pilot's 6,000 hours.

Ahead of the news conference, Robin said he met with families of the victims before disclosing his conclusions about the flight's demise. "The families were in shock," he said. "They found it difficult to believe."

Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said he was "stunned" by the French prosecutor's conclusion that Lubitz had deliberately crashed the jet.

He said Lubitz had passed all of the airline's technical and medical examinations, although the medical oversight did not include psychological testing. Spohr said the airline chooses its staff "very, very carefully."

Lufthansa said Lubitz was accepted in 2008 into a pilot training program that normally lasts from a year and a half to two years.

Andre Droog, a psychologist who's spent his career helping to select and train young pilots, mostly for the Dutch airline KLM, said that "in general, they are a group of very enthusiastic people and mentally very healthy. And you hardly have any depressed pilots. But, of course, you know there may be some pilots who experience difficulties in their lives."

Droog, who is president of the European Association for Aviation Psychology, said psychological tests are part of the selection process. But those tests can't always predict how pilots will cope with real-life problems on the job.

Lisa Bryant contributed to this report from Paris.

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