Update (3), Germanwings: Authorities confirms co-pilot deliberately crashed aircraft.

Update March 26, 2015: The Marseilles prosecutor Brice Robin has confirmed that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz 28, from Montabaur Germany, put the autopilot on descent and was alive at the impact with ground, the accident is now turning from an involuntary to voluntary manslaughter investigation says the prosecutor.

He further revealed that the co-pilots breath can be heard on the tape as can the calls from ATC and the Captains efforts to enter the cockpit. The autopilots “Pull Up, Pull Up” can also be heard as the ground proximity warning triggered. Passengers screaming just before impact can also be heard. The co-pilot did not say anything but his breath is heard until impact. Research has failed to show any terrorist connections for Andreas Lubitz says Robin.

French news is now analyzing possible reasons for this act by the co-pilot pictured here in front of Golden Gate bridge:

Copilot 4U9525 2015-03-26 14.06.33

Flightradar24 has a private receiver network for the aircraft’s intelligent transponder of type ADS-B. They now confirm that the aircraft’s autopilot was manually changed from 38,000 to 96 ft at 09:30:55 UTC.

March 25, 2015: In a breathtaking, stunning revelation, the New York Times reported today that an investigator of the Germanwings accident says the Cockpit Voice Recorder indicates one pilot was out of the cockpit and was unable to get back in.

The pilot can be heard initially knocking on the door to gain reentry, then pounding on the door and yelling to the other pilot. No response.

The scene is horrific to contemplate: the passengers must have heard the locked-out pilot and became increasingly alarmed as the plane descended from 38,000 ft to impact at around 6,000 ft.

This scenario immediately raises two possibilities: an intentional act by the pilot remaining in the cockpit; or an incapacitating medical emergency occurred.

We spoke with John Cox of Safety Operating Systems and a former Airbus A320 captain to discuss this latest news. Cox is also a safety analyst for the NBC network in the US.

How could the pilot be locked out? Isn’t there a way for authorized personnel to get back into the cockpit?

  • There is, Cox said, providing the override switch (essentially a double lock) isn’t engaged. If it is, the secure door can’t be opened.

Isn’t a flight attendant supposed to go into the cockpit if one pilot leaves?

  • In the US, this is standard procedure, but it isn’t necessarily so in the rest of the world. Malaysia Airlines didn’t have this policy prior to the disappearance of MH370. Cox doesn’t know what Lufthansa Group’s policy is. If it does, did a flight attendant violate procedure? Or did an attendant enter the cockpit and something happened to her?

With the course deviation and long descent, could this have been anything other than a deliberate act?

  • It depends on whether the flight management system had been fully programmed, but there is a possibility automation took over, Cox said. This would also mean a medical event, if one occurred, would have had to occur about the same time. Long odds, to be sure, but many aviation accidents/incidents involves a convergence of long-odd events.

If there was a medical emergency, could the pilot of hit the sidestick in such a fashion as to induce the deviation and descent?

  • Cox said this is unlikely.

Could this be an intentional act?

  • Cox acknowledges that it could, but also points out that the long, slow descent at a steady speed doesn’t fit the typical pilot suicide profile. Other than the suspected intentional act with MH370, all previous pilot suicides have been nosed over from altitude and crashed at high speed into the ground.

CNN raised the question of whether something might have happened to cause hypoxia to the remaining pilot, and, if an F/A were present, to prevent them from opening the door. This is probably an impossibility, for any oxygen deprivation in the cockpit would occur in the rest of the airplane, too.

Clearly the media will be all over the French investigators Thursday when France opens for business.

39 Comments on “Update (3), Germanwings: Authorities confirms co-pilot deliberately crashed aircraft.

  1. And for such a short flight, why did the first pilot leave the cockpit. Was it a routine break, or did he go to check something out that might be relevant here.

  2. Question: do FDR’s capture cabin noise, or otherwise record reactions during the 9-10 minute descent? Do they show attempts to call in from the FA station? What was recorded that has been heard by early investigators, but has not yet been shared with the rest of the world? Logically, if these other ‘channels’ are subject to recording, authorities will soon drop another shoe.

    A year ago, one of the most plausible theories for MH370 was that the senior pilot got compliance from his very junior copilot to briefly exit the flight deck, perhaps in a scenario like, “hey, go use the lav and when you come back you’ll take over,” then locked him out and commenced a suicide mission. So, it will be interesting to learn the precise ages/experience levels of the flying crew.

    As horrific as it is, suicide is (and always has been) a human reality. Non-pilots commit suicide; GA pilots occasionally commit suicide. In this ‘Age of Terrorism’, why would we not expect commercial pilots to do so, also? They are human, and ours is a species with plenty of problems.

  3. Leeham: Could this be an intentional act?

    “Cox acknowledges that it could, but also points out that the long, slow descent at a steady speed doesn’t fit the typical pilot suicide profile.”

    That was why I tossed aside that possibility early on. Before the revelation by this investigator there was nothing to indicate this could be a terrorists act or some kind of highjack. And in accordance with this first impression the BEA initially said that the case for a terrorists act was not very strong at the time. However, during the BEA conference call Remi Jouty maintained this as a possibility. This might be because at this stage they had already listened to the CVR recording.

    Leeham: “CNN raised the question of whether something might have happened to cause hypoxia to the remaining pilot, and, if an F/A were present, to prevent them from opening the door. This is probably an impossibility, for any oxygen deprivation in the cockpit would occur in the rest of the airplane, too.”

    If I am not mistaken when there is a differential pressure with the cabin an automatic signal is sent to release the cockpit door locks and open the door to balance the pressure.

    • Nit-picking correction:

      Did not Silk Air 737 go into a river?

      Did not Egypt Air 767 go into Long Island Sound?

      • Historically most highjacks of this kind quickly aimed for the ground, a mountain or a building. The only one that appeared to have kept flying for a prolong period while still navigating was MH370. That is why I say this one does not look like a highjack but more like a medical condition.

    • When I first heard reports that the pilot was trying to get back into the cockpit, my first thought was “medical issue with pilot in cockpit rendered him incapable of unlocking door”.

      I don’t think anything nefarious or sinister. I just think the guy in the cockpit had a medical problem and it was game over at that point.

  4. In the New York Times article, speaking of the pilot that was left outside the cockpit, it says “You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”

    If that was the case, and I have no reasons to doubt this information, this would weakened the highjack scenario because we would normally expect the guy inside the cockpit to take the airplane down as quickly as possible before the other guy succeeds in breaking the door open. That being said, remains the possibility of another MH370 kind of scenario where the pilot remaining inside the cockpit would have done an oxygen mask and switched off the cabin pressure. The pilot inside the cabin would now have access to a short oxygen supply but would have been unable to continue smashing the door for very long.

    A more probable scenario would be a medical problem like a heart attack or a stroke. This begs the following question: Is eight minutes enough for the pilot inside the cabin to smash the door open? Provided it would be possible to do so in the first place. I know that these doors are very strong. Especially the newer generation.

    At least we now have a bone to chew on.


    • If the pilot in the cockpit was confident enough that the door can’t be smashed down, then why the hurry?

      Being silent, not replying to the other pilot outside nor the air traffic control could mean, he might have intended to keep it mysterious. If it was a deliberate act, he was well aware that the CVR will be found and analyzed. So he might have wanted to leave as little trace(s) as possible.

      On the other hand, could an epileptic seizure have happened? Would that be audible on the CVR?

      Once the FDR is found, analyzed and compared with the CVR it will provide more information. Did the pilot in the cockpit still actively manipulate (deliberate act) the aircraft or was there no active flying/operating anymore (health condition)? The latter though would still not explain why the second, inner lock was engaged.

  5. The problem with hypoxia or incapacitated for any reason is it in of itself does not explain the decent. It isn’t going to start decent without an input to do so.

    So far it appears no course deviation, that tends to look like a directed decent per tuning the auto pilot or a massive muck up of the flight computers.

    Said muck up also means pilot is incapacitated (for any reason) and said muck up only causes a decent not a change of direction.

    And of course why did the override on the door allow access (8 minute to do so and even decent).

    Stay tuned.

  6. Seattle’s world-famous James Raisbeck, who designed his company’s retrofit RAISBECK COCKPIT DOOR after 9/11,
    might be enticed to join this discussion. Jim?

  7. Leeham: How could the pilot be locked out? Isn’t there a way for authorized personnel to get back into the cockpit?

    “There is, Cox said, providing the override switch (essentially a double lock) isn’t engaged. If it is, the secure door can’t be opened.”

    The more I think about this the more it looks like a deliberate act. And if indeed it is this will soon become the number one cause for aircraft ‘accidents’. A medical condition easily explains why the pilot inside the cockpit would not be responding but it cannot so easily explain why the cockpit door was locked with the override switch activated. This alone makes a good case for an intentional act even though the flight profile does not have the characteristics of a highjack. I am baffled!

  8. I read this TNYT article again and something puzzles me. The article speaks of “a senior military official involved in the investigation”. And at the end of his statement we can read “said the official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is continuing.”

    How many senior military officials are involved in this investigation? I mean he would be easy to identify by the other investigation members, wouldn’t he? Could this mean that he was on a mission to leak this information in order to prepare the public for a highjack scenario? What I find particularly intriguing is that this information was leaked only a few hours after the actual recording became available to the investigators. That’s strange. Unless The New York Times were taken for a ride. But I have to assume they verified their source, for they always do. And they have a reputation to protect.

    • Speculation alert.

      Could be just for expertise in aircraft systems, could be a role to ensure national security, you don’t have information to even guess.

      US FBI is on standby for the investigation in case their talents and data are needed.

      • “US FBI is on standby for the investigation in case their talents and data are needed.”

        There probably is no need for a faked terrorist attack by “FBI handraised” perpetrators.

  9. Excerpt from pprune:

    I am a A320 Captain for a UK operator.

    Whilst not wanting to discuss cockpit door procedures, I think it should be clear to those reading this thread that it requires a conscious person and a deliberate action of someone inside the flight deck to lock someone out and prevent entry to the flight deck.

    • And then what, a live feed and a link to take over control from the ground? I personally think that pilots should have at least some privacy, and I’m wondering what the benefit would be to actually see the last minutes of a pilots life in a crash situation.

      • Have to agree with Bob here.
        If this does indeed turn out to be a deliberate act, the focus should be on procedures. When locked cockpit doors were introduced, it was clear that there are two sides to them – quite literally. Because a lockable door doesn’t mean it’s always the bad guys that are kept locked outside and the good guys inside.
        Worldwide procedures don’t seem to fully reflect this so far, as the assumption in a lot of countries still seems to be that it’s always the bad guys that are *outside* the cockpit. This in the face of incidents like LAM flight 470 or ET702 where the lockable cockpit doors were used by to keep those outside that would have prevented a crash/hijack, respectively.

        Having a camera inside the cockpit wouldn’t really help in these scenarios. The object should be to avoid such scenarios to begin with, e.g. by making sure there is always a second person in the cockpit.

        • I throw in a question for those very familiar with Airbus’ systems’ limits on pilot action:
          Do the systems limit descent speed?

          Certainly raises questions about unintended effects of protecting against hijackers instead of wiping out the sources of their equipment, training, and motivation.

          Anyone who reveals the full set of methods for emergency entrances is irresponsible. While al Qaeda may get them regardless, we are getting more copycats and wannabes attacking people today.

      • Alert – control from ground has to be absolutely positively reliable, that was discussed ad nauseum after the Islamic Totalitarian warrior attacks of September 11, 2001.

  10. I have always been suspicious to the design of the cockpit door that leaves the possibility for one (or two) persons in the cockpit to lock out the remainder of the crew. I have always felt like this security measure might one day backfire. Maybe this accident will prove to be the first such ocurence, and then we have the MH370 also. I think it is time to reconsider this locking mechanism all together.

  11. Some people seem to mention that the flight path is not typical to a suicide dive, bit what is a typical suicide flight path?
    as mentioned before this seems to have the basics of the follow LAM crash:http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20131129-0

    Some where I hope this was not intentional.. The cockpit door might be up for revision, or protocols should in place that two pilots must be in the cockpit at any time (in cockpit lav?)

    • Hi bob, I am one among many others who thought that the Germanwings crash did not have the flight profile characteristics of a deliberate act. I was obviously wrong. Had I known about this 2013 crash of an ERJ190 I would have seen a striking similarity. Both flights started at the same altitude (FL380) and impacted the ground after about eight minutes. Thanks for posting that link.

  12. Together with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 scenarios a discussion of new cockpit safety procedures and equipment is gaining ground.

  13. There is one inescapable fact. If the first officer was indeed incapacitated then how was the door securely fastened, not just routinely closed.

  14. From Anet:

    As a flight attendant flying A320 family aircraft pretty much everyday. The door procedure is like this:

    -with entering the code at the door, you make a request to open the door. the pilot can allow or deny it with “unlock or lock”.
    -if the pilot does not unlock the door. you can enter the emergency code (which is different than the regular one) and the door get automatically unlocked only after 5 MINUTES for only 30 SECONDS.

    So, the question is, what is about the remaining 3 minutes?

    Not valid on all Airbus models, the airline can opt anything from 5 to 20 minutes. No Idea what this ship had…..

    • You have to fit more than just waiting 5min for the door to open into the descent time 8..10min.
      pulling up your trousers, exiting the loo, trying the door in the regular way, increasing calling urgency and finally entering the number for access… waiting … 5minutes … but fin.

    • Let’s assume it was the minimum five-minute delay. There is a strong possibility that a few precious minutes had already passed when this cycle was initiated. In other words when the override switch was engaged there was probably less than five minutes left to the flight. We have to take into consideration the normal reaction time that is to be expected of any human being in a situation like this. No one is prepared for this kind of scenario and it takes a while for the brain to properly understand what is going on, to overcome the emotion and to know what one has to do.

  15. The public prosecutor in Marseille has now confirmed that, based on CVR data analysis, the co-pilot was alone in the cockpit when he initiated the descent, and that he had locked out the pilot. The co-pilot’s breathing was still audible until the end of the recording. Their working assumption is thus that the crash was a deliberate act by the co-pilot.

    Utterly shocking.

  16. When I wrote that this looked like a deliberate act in the original post, on March 23, I also asked if the pilots’ names had been released.

    The NYT article points out that the airline has not disclosed the identities of the pilots.

    The possibility that the pilot remaining in the cockpit might have been incapacitated seems hard to reconcile with the descent profile, which would require deliberate action.

    Odds are very heavy in favor of a deliberate action. Not releasing the pilots’ names makes me wonder if one of these names could raise suspicion about a possible Islamic connection.

    • Thanks to Steinar Norheim for the link.

      So the co-pilot’s name is Andreas Lubitz. No suspicion of islamic connection at his point.

    • The names and age of both pilots have been released. Both of German origin.

  17. “Flightradar24 has a private receiver network for the aircraft’s intelligent transponder of type ADS-B. They now confirm that the aircraft’s autopilot was manually changed from 38,000 to 96 ft at 09:30:55 UTC.”
    Another check of security to add to the flight control computer: “if target altitude is below level, raise a warning and and ask confirmation by two pilots” (can be 2 physical buttons far away from each other so they can’t be pushed at the same time by only one personn).

    Pax in the front rows must have understood what was happening quite rapidly, but they screamed only at the last moment, I imagine they didn’t want to believe… 🙁

    The policy to have 2 people in the cockpit at all times seems to make more sense than ever, I don’t care if a FA can’t sell duty free shopping for 5 minutes…

  18. A culture of ‘safety over money’ is certainly needed, to ensure two are in the flight deck at all times. As another aspect of this ‘safety over money’ culture, though, the aviation ‘stakeholders’ (the airlines and the regulatory bodies that work primarily for the airlines) have to step up and publicly disclose safety information, not hide it or spin it into a confection.

    French authorities are to be commended for releasing this much information this quickly, and this candidly. Also, we see here where online services like FlightRadar24 are essentially compelling regulatory accountability. Although this level of transparency runs counter to commercial aviation traditions, it is what the public needs. Commercial aviation does have an impressive safety record, but anymore, this record is most undermined by the appearance of regulatory capture of our safety officials. In this age, if we are to have a real and abiding confidence in aviation, and given that we now have so many technologies enabling passengers to immediately share images and audio, it makes no sense for officials to continue to try and spin the bad stories into good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *