Germanwings Crash: More Questions Than Answers
A ndreas Lubitz allegedly wanted to intentionally destroy the Airbus A320-200 aircraft operating as Germanwings flight 4U-9525 — which was carrying 144 passengers and six members of the flight crew from Barcelona to Dusseldorf but crashed in a mountainous area of southern France at approximately 11:20 in the morning two days ago, leaving no survivors — by purposely initiating a descent which lasted for eight minutes before the airplane crashed in the French Alps and disintegrated into hundreds of small pieces.
As the co-pilot of the flight, Lubitz — who was 28 years old — purposely locked the door to the cockpit shortly after the aircraft reached its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet and after the pilot left the cockpit, leaving Lubitz alone.
According to this article from the British Broadcasting Corporation — better known as BBC — there was “absolute silence in the cockpit” as the pilot fought to re-enter it.
Carsten Spohr — who is the chairman and chief executive officer of Lufthansa, which is the German carrier that owns Germanwings — reportedly said that Lubitz had undergone intensive training and “was 100% fit to fly without any caveats”; and that “We have no findings at all about what motivated the pilot to do this terrible deed.”
That is of little comfort to the family and friends of those passengers and members of the flight crew who perished in the Germanwings crash.
He added that the training of Lubitz had been interrupted briefly six years ago but was resumed after “the suitability of the candidate was re-established”.
What the heck is that supposed to mean? Did Lubitz have a substance abuse issue? Was there a problem with his behavior? Did he have a pre-existing condition? Were there situations which he encountered that were stressful? Could he possibly have been a member of a radical terrorist group? Had his medication changed, if he was required to take any? That nebulous statement could reveal if there was a problem or issue with Lubitz about which Germanwings and Lufthansa should have investigated further.
Information extracted from one of the voice recorders — also known as the “black box” — suggested that Lubitz was alone in the cockpit; that air traffic controllers repeatedly attempted unsuccessfully to establish contact with the pilots of the aircraft; that passengers could be heard screaming just before the crash occurred; and that Lubitz was alive until the final impact of the crash.
The other voice recorder still has yet to be found.
“The focus now moves from the mechanics to the man flying the plane”, said Richard Westcott, who is the transport correspondent for BBC. “An accident expert has told me the investigators will pore over the co-pilot’s background and that of his family too.”
It is a little late for that, isn’t it?
As a layperson when it comes to commercial aviation, I would like to initiate a discussion here. Perhaps I am wrong; but maybe the following changes need to be considered:
- In addition to the rigorous training and intense refresher courses through which pilots are regularly required to undertake in order to remain a pilot; perhaps there needs to be an increase in periodic psychiatric evaluations and a review of the current situations of pilots which could potentially affect their performance while on duty — but that could open the door to invasion of privacy and impede upon their rights.
- Cockpit personnel need to have a way to unlock a cockpit door from the outside — although that would not address a situation where a pilot is purposely attempting to keep a potentially rogue pilot out of the cockpit.
- Assuming that the pilot left the aircraft before using the lavatory aboard the aircraft, it might have been done too soon after departure. Pilots need to do whatever they can to at least ensure that they stay in the cockpit as long as possible while ensuring they get as much rest as they can during the flight; and one of those measures could be using a toilet in the airport as close to departure time of the aircraft as possible.
An immense amount of trust is placed on airlines every day by their passengers, employees and stakeholders — and pilots are a key part. Even the perception of abuse or negligence of that trust could cause potential passengers to be hesitant to patronize an airline with their business.
We can say that pilots such as Andreas Lubitz are an unusual anomaly in aviation when you realize that this incident occurred after many thousands of successfully completed flights. Although an investigation is currently under way, we may never fully know what caused Lubitz to commit such a senseless, thoughtless and foolish act; but if he really wanted to commit suicide, he could have succeeded without involving 149 other innocent people who were completely unaware of the fate he supposedly had in store for them…
…so let us start the discussion. What measures — if any — do you think could be implemented to prevent unfortunate incidents similar to this one in the future? How could this incident affect the future of commercial aviation, if at all? Did Lubitz really want to destroy the airplane; or could that conclusion be erroneous? Is it possible that mechanical failure contributed to — or even caused — the crash itself?
There are so many questions which are still not definitively answered. In the meantime, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the victims of this horrible tragedy. What are your thoughts?
The Airbus A319-132 in the photograph taken at Dublin Airport is operated by Germanwings, which is a low-cost carrier subsidiary of Lufthansa; and it was not the aircraft involved in the crash. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.