The latest chapter in the tragic saga of the Germangwings airliner that went down in the French Alps has been written. The Daily Mail and other sources are reporting this morning that Andreas Günter Lubitz, the 28-year-old co-pilot who deliberately steered the Airbus A320 into a mountain, killing all 151 people on board, including himself, suffered from depression. A spokesman for Lufthansa, the parent company that owns Germangwings, released a video statement in which he said Lubitz’s depression and “burn-out” were so severe that at one point he was forced to stop training.
The Wall Street Journal adds that Lubitz had received — and tore up — a note from his doctor excusing him from flying on the day of the crash.
It is a horrible, heart-wrenching story that will forever change the lives of the families and friends of the passengers, many of them teenagers, who died on that ill-fated flight. Now come the inevitable questions on how such tragedies can be averted in the future. A piece published in yesterday’s Independent assigns blame to one link in this deadly chain of events: Lubitz’s capacity for locking the pilot out of the cockpit, which in turn enabled him to complete his suicide-murder mission.
The culprit, then, was the reinforced, lockable cockpit door that became a standard security feature on jetliners following the terrorist attacks 9/11. The Independent’s Simon Calder reminds the reader:
Until the 9/11 attacks, most passenger aircraft had a fairly flimsy door between the cockpit and the cabin, because an attack on the pilots and a takeover of the aircraft was considered implausible. The 9/11 hijackers, armed with blades that they had taken through security, were able to access the flight deck and kill the pilots to take control.
Calder then quotes Philip Baum, editor of Aviation Security International magazine and a leading aviation security expert, who maintains that this “knee-jerk reaction to the events of 9/11” sealed the fate of the passengers on the Germangwings flights.
Ella Atkins, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, agrees that other measures need to be implemented. She is quoted on BuzzFeed that the prevailing assumption has long been that the flight’s crew are the “good guys.”
One UK airline, Monarch has already taken steps to alter its standard operating procedures:
The airline has always practised an ‘eyes-on’ check at 15- to 20-minute intervals during the cruising phase of a flight – this is where the cabin crew enter the flight deck and check on the captain and first officer.
All passenger flights will now require a member of cabin crew to stand in the flight deck when either the captain or the first officer leave the area for any reason.