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Lufthansa knew six years ago that pilot who crashed plane in Alps had suffered a ‘serious depressive episode’

Bloomberg News and Associated Press 

March 31, 2015 

 

Lufthansa knew six years ago that the co-pilot of the passenger plane that crashed in the French Alps last week had suffered from a “serious depressive episode,” the German airline said Tuesday.

The airline said that as part of its internal research it found emails that Andreas Lubitz sent to the Lufthansa flight school in Bremen when he resumed his training there in 2009 after an interruption of several months.

In them, he informed the school, where he had started studying in 2008, that he had suffered a “serious depressive episode,” which had since subsided.

The airline said Lubitz subsequently passed all medical checks and that it has provided the documents to prosecutors. It declined to make any further comment.

The revelation that Lufthansa had been informed of Lubitz’s psychological problems raises further questions about why he was allowed to become a pilot for its subsidiary, Germanwings, in September 2013.

Authorities say the 27-year-old Lubitz, who in the past had been treated for suicidal tendencies, locked his captain out of the cockpit before deliberately crashing the Airbus 320 into a mountain in the French Alps on March 24. All 150 people aboard Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf were killed.

 Separately Tuesday, German daily Bild and French magazine Paris Match said their reporters have been shown a video they say was taken by someone inside the cabin of the doomed plane shortly before it crashed.

Both periodicals reported that the video was found on a memory chip that could have come from a cellphone. Paris Match said the footage was found “among the wreckage by a source close to the investigation.”

The Associated Press could not independently confirm the reports.

Marseille Prosecutor Brice Robin, overseeing the French criminal investigation into the crash, told the AP Tuesday night that no cellphone video has been found from the plane.

Paris Match reported that “you can hear cries of ’My God’ in several languages” and metallic banging, perhaps of the pilot trying to open the cockpit door with a heavy object. It said the screaming intensified toward the end, after a heavy shake.

Bild said that “even though the scene on board is chaotic and completely shaky, and no individual person can be identified, the accuracy of the video is beyond question.”

Lufthansa earlier Tuesday said it had set aside $300 million to deal with possible costs from the crash as French aviation investigators said they were examining “systemic weaknesses” like cockpit entry rules and psychological screening procedures that could have led to the Germanwings plane crash — issues that could eventually change worldwide aviation practices.

 French aviation agency BEA signalled the latest re-think about airline procedures in the wake of the Germanwings crash, which jolted an aviation industry already reeling after one passenger plane disappeared into an ocean and another was shot out of the sky over war-torn eastern Ukraine.

The goal of the BEA investigation is to make recommendations to aviation authorities, not just in France but anywhere, about what can be done to prevent similar crashes. French prosecutors are carrying out a separate crash probe to pinpoint possible criminal wrongdoing.

The Germanwings crash has already produced some changes in aviation procedures. Europe’s aviation regulator now says all airlines in Europe should require two people in the cockpit at all times during a flight. Many airlines have already imposed the new rule, which has been in place in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, which brings together 191 nations, said state agencies like the BEA must officially determine the causes and contributing factors of crashes and give recommendations on ways to avoid recurrences. ICAO could then bring such recommendations to its member states — possibly leading to changes in international aviation standards.

BEA said it aims to provide a “detailed analysis” of the Germanwings cockpit voice recorder and any other flight data — but it also plans to widen its search, to examine issues that could be problematic for all airlines.

“(We will study) systemic weaknesses (that) might possibly have led to this aviation disaster,” BEA said in its first statement since prosecutors detailed the co-pilot’s suspected role in the crash.

 

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