Adreas Lubitz is a name we have all been seeing in the news lately. He was a seemingly normal guy who had many friends, a girlfriend, and made it into flight school with Lufthansa. Many remember him as a “friendly, if very reserved, person.” Andreas often competed in long distance races, such as half-marathons, often placing very high. He was what most people would consider a typical, and even successful, young 27-year-old. Shockingly, last week Andreas took his own life and those of 149 others in the worst Lufthansa airline crash in twenty-two years.
On March 24th, German Wings Flight 4U 9525 smashed into the French Alps, killing everyone on board (German Wings is a smaller airline owned by Lufthansa). What was thought at first to be an accident was later found out to be intentional by the Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz. As the plane’s black box made clear, at around 10:30 am the pilot stepped out of the cockpit to go to the restroom, leaving Lubitz alone to man the controls. The door to the cockpit was manually locked when the pilot left, which could only have been done intentionally by Lubitz. On the cockpit’s recording that was recovered, the sound of the pilot softly knocking on the door can be heard. There is no answer. The knocking gets louder until it sounds as if the pilot is trying to knock the door down. The autopilot controls were manipulated, keeping the plane on track, but the altitude was changed from 38,000 feet to 96 feet. Once set, the aircraft started descending at around 1,000 feet per minute. The pilot was joined by others as he was helplessly knocking on the door. At 10:40 am the plane struck the side of a mountain obliterating flight 4U 9525 into thousands of pieces.
The motive for Lubitz’s actions is unknown. He was treated for depression before the incident occurred, but is that all it takes to take all 150 lives on board? In my opinion, much more had to have happened to drive a man to commit such a crime. Investigators have searched his house for clues as to why he might have done this. They found a torn-up doctor’s note that excused him from working on that fateful Tuesday morning. It is not yet known what the doctor’s note was in treatment for, but why did he choose to go to work that day? These questions may never be answered, but it makes me wonder, should these airlines require stricter standards to pass their psychological screening? I think that in many cases, when it comes to an employer knowing a worker’s personal medical history, it should be kept private. However, in the case of a pilot or any other kind of worker who could directly endanger the public, it is vital to know if they are mentally stable.
I think an additional precaution might have prevented the incident as well. German flights do not always require two people in the cockpit like American flights do. When a pilot steps out to go to the bathroom on a U.S. flight, a flight attendant must join the other pilot for reasons like this. The doors on the cockpits are unable to be opened from the outside due to changes after 9/11, which is understandable, so having a second person in the cockpit might have been the only solution.
It is impossible to predict if a pilot will commit such a crime if he is mentally unstable, but we can increase the odds of being safe by making the medical records known in such cases and by encouraging foreign airlines to have two people in the cockpit at all times.
Ultimately, I know we all try and figure out ways to keep things like this from happening, but sometimes it’s only clear in hindsight. I hope for the sake of all the victims, as well as the Lubitz family and friends, that more information is uncovered that will shed light on what exactly led to that tragic Tuesday morning.