The Germanwings co-pilot suspected of deliberately downing his plane in the French Alps practiced entering crash settings in the aircraft’s systems on the previous flight the same day, investigators said.
A preliminary report from French investigators released Wednesday said co-pilot Andreas Lubitz set the altitude dial on the Airbus A320 to 100 feet five times while alone in the cockpit en route from Dusseldorf to Barcelona on March 24.
Cockpit voice recordings suggested that Lubitz, 27, locked the captain out of the cockpit during a bathroom break and steered Flight 4U9525 into a mountainside while returning from Barcelona to Dusseldorf on March 24. The captain can be heard on the recordings demanding to be let back in and trying to break down the door.
Lubitz had been treated for depression in the past and a search of his home revealed he had researched suicide methods on his tablet computer days before the crash. Investigators also found torn-up sick notes.
Records posted online show he applied in 2010 while he was employed by Lufthansa and training at a flight school in Phoenix. As part of the application, he initially submitted a medical form to the FAA asserting he had no mental disorders. He then resubmitted the form acknowledging he had been treated for severe depression from 2008 to 2009.
LANGEN, Germany — Technology that would allow planes to be controlled remotely in situations similar to the Germanwings tragedy is being eyed by German authorities.
Investigators believe co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked his captain out of the cockpit and deliberately crashed the Germanwings plane into a French mountainside on March 24, killing 150 people.
Flight 4U9525’s descent took eight minutes, but authorities were powerless to intervene.
“French air traffic controllers were monitoring how the co-pilot put commands for zero altitude into the computer system, but could not do anything,” Axel Raab from German Air Traffic Control (DFS) told NBC News.
German officials have now started examining whether new research should be launched into systems that would allow the plane to be flown from the ground.
“We have to think past today’s technology,” DFS head Klaus Dieter Scheurle said at a press conference earlier this week.
In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and a Helios Airways crash in 2005, where the crew and passengers became unconscious, the European Union and several companies including DFS launched a research project called “Safe automatic flight back and landing of aircraft” — or SOFIA — in 2006.
Experts spent three years evaluating new systems that would allow air traffic controllers on the ground to take remote control of a passenger plane and safely land it in case of emergency.
“The crash of the Germanwings aircraft has given us some new impulse to think again about our research project,” DFS spokeswoman Kristina Kelek said. “The main thought has been how could it be possible that we try to influence a flight, a cockpit from the ground in case of an emergency.”
“One big question is if this would be an actual improvement or if we just create new risks.”
Kelek said that the project did not lead to a real-world experiment “because the development of that specific equipment hasn’t been yet done.”
So far, airlines have reacted cautiously to the renewed initiative. A spokesperson for Lufthansa Group, the parent company of Germanwings said: “We took notice of the new proposals and are evaluating, in coordination with our partners in the task force, how we can improve aircraft security.”
Some experts have warned of the vulnerability and safety risks of data streams between ground systems and aircraft.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office found in a report this week that because modern aircraft are increasingly connected to the Internet, “interconnectedness can potentially provide unauthorized remote access to aircraft avionics systems.”
Markus Wahl, the deputy spokesperson of the German airline pilots’ association Cockpit, told NBC News that the concept of remote-controlled aircraft raised potential safety issues.
“At the current time there are too many unsolved questions, so we cannot support this,” he said. “One big question is if this would be an actual improvement or if we just create new risks.”
Wahl warned that once there is a remote control system, it could be used by someone who is not authorized. He also said that pilots are still best equipped to handle an emergency.
“In the event of an emergency, you need all the information, and the pilots sitting in the cockpit are the only ones who have all of it,” he said.
Earlier this month, a task force of experts, industry representatives and government officials was established to assess new criteria for flight safety following the fatal Germanwings plane crash.
It will also examine the DFS’ proposals “towards the end of its work process,” a German official told NBC News.
However, DFS stressed that remote controls for passenger aircraft would be a “long-term project” and that any new technology would need to be approved and certified internationally by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Source: (Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)
Some mental health experts are beginning to grow concerned that the murderous behavior of Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is stigmatizing mental illness.
Lubitz, according to The New York Times, had been treated by psychotherapists “over a long period of time,” but failed to reveal it to his employer, the office of the public prosecutor in Düsseldorf, Germany said Monday.
Voice recordings from the flight reveal that Lubitz was alone in the cockpit and refused to allow the captain to re-enter as the plane crashed, killing all 150 people on board a week ago Tuesday. He was apparently concerned about losing his job over mental health issues. Airline pilots diagnosed with mental health issues reportedly risk losing their jobs, the report notes.
But the focus on Lubitz’s mental health issues may do more harm than good for awareness, experts believe.
One of those concerned experts is Jeff Gardere, a psychologist who frequently appears on CNN. He tellsNewsOne that Lubitz, who allegedly withheld information about his treatment from his employer out of fear of being fired, is an aberration.
Gardere’s message is critical to the Black community, which historically has had attitudinal barriers about seeking treatment. An estimated 63 percent of African-Americans see depression as a personal weakness, which is higher than the overall survey average of 54 percent, according to Mental Health America.
“This is something that is an aberration,” Gardere said Monday. “This is an individual who had an extreme amount of responsibility and if he had not hidden issues from his employers, they may have gotten him even more help with his problems.”
Gardere encourages people of color not to allow the incident to dissuade them from seeking treatment for mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, and other issues. For people worried about losing their jobs as a result of mental health issues, he said there are protections under the law. Two of thoseprotections include the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), experts say.
“I think the lesson to be learned is to take on your mental health issues straight on and don’t try to hide it and suffer silently,” Gardere said. “There are protections with your employer. Of course, there’s no guarantee that, if you’re a pilot for example, it won’t damage your standing. But for 99 percent of us who are not pilots, certainly you do have protections.”
Beyond that, he expressed issues of access to treatment for African-Americans. The National Institute of Mental Health says one out of three African-Americans who need mental health care receives it. And African-Americans, compared to the general population, are more likely to stop treatment early and are less likely to receive follow-up care.
These findings come despite efforts to improve mental health services for African-Americans. For those with insurance, coverage for mental health services and substance use disorders is substantially lower than coverage for other medical illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
There are also concerns about being stigmatized as crazy.
“In general, people feel that if you’re having some mental health issues that you’re crazy, that you’re weak, that you’re less than, that you’re contaminated,” Gardere said. “In fact, we know that problems of living, including mental health issues, are part and parcel of our lives.”
He says it’s important for people to avoid allowing the actions of a lone man to impact their mental health treatment.
Further, he urged family members and friends to show sensitivity toward those with mental illness.
“We all have brothers, sisters, children, friends or close relatives who at some point in time will deal with a mental health issue,” he said. “So we have to be supportive and understand that this isn’t something that is foreign or that it is abnormal. In fact, problems of living are part of everyday life.”………….’