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Co-pilot deliberately crashed Germanwings plane, officials say

by Sam Kaplan - The Oregon Herald Thursday March 26, 2015    8:25 AM

It's MASS MURDER, nothing less, say most officials. Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who authorities say deliberately crashed a plane with 150 people on board in the French Alps Tuesday, was "rather quiet" and showed no overt signs of his intentions, people who knew him said Thursday.

There were screams as passengers realized in the final seconds that the co-pilot was deliberately flying them into the mountains after locking the captain out of the cockpit.

Germany's top security official said the 28-year-old German citizen wasn't known to authorities, and there are "no indications of any kind of terrorist background."

Lubitz had "interrupted" his training for several months and then completed it, which is not unusual. He passed all flight examinations and medical examinations, and was "100% fit to fly," Spohr said.

Information collected by investigators suggests the co-pilot who was in control of the Germanwings airplane when it crashed, killing all 150 people on board, was acting deliberately, the prosecutor said Thursday.

The co-pilot apparently "wanted to destroy the aircraft," Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said.

Lufthansa officials are "speechless that this aircraft has been deliberately crashed by the co-pilot," CEO Carsten Spohr said. The company owns Germanwings.

It's unknown whether the co-pilot planned his actions in advance, Robin said. But the co-pilot, 28-year-old German national Andreas Lubitz, "took advantage" of a moment in which the pilot left the cockpit.

Screaming could be heard on the audio recording only in the last few minutes, and death was instantaneous for those on board when the plane crashed, Robin said.

The horrific description seemed to leave the prosecutor at a loss for words. It is not being described as a "terrorist attack," and the killing of 150 people would generally not be described as a "suicide" either, Robin said.

Lubitz was not known to be on any terrorism list, and his religion was not immediately known, Robin said.

The picture of the plane's final minutes comes largely from what was discovered in the mangled cockpit voice recorder.

The co-pilot "activated the descent" of the plane when he was alone in the cockpit, Robin said. That can only be done deliberately, he said.

The most plausible explanation of the crash is that the co-pilot "through deliberate abstention, refused to open the cabin door ... to the chief pilot, and used the button" to cause the plane to lose altitude, Robin said.

The co-pilot was "fully qualified to pilot the aircraft on his own," Robin added. The audio recording showed his breathing to be steady, with no sign that he had a heart attack or other medical issue.

He only had about 100 hours of experience on the type of aircraft he was flying, but he had all the necessary certifications and qualifications to pilot the aircraft alone, the prosecutor said.

The bodies of the Germanwings crash victims will not be released until all DNA identification work has been done -- a process likely to last several weeks, Robin said.

Robin said he had told the families of the crash victims all the same information he was telling reporters at the news conference.

The families of the two pilots are also in France but are not in the same place as the relatives, he said.

Robin emphasized that his conclusions were preliminary.

Second 'black box' still lost Finding the plane's second "black box" will also be critical to understanding the mystery of what went on inside the jet.

That box, the flight data recorder, hasn't been found yet, but Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said Wednesday that there's a high probability it will be.

In the United States, when one pilot on a commercial flight like the Germanwings flight leaves their station, FAA regulations require that another member of the crew replace them in the cockpit and lock the door.

"For our members, all flights have two people in the cockpit at all times," said Melanie Hinton, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, an industry trade group.

That's not always the case internationally.

Lufthansa earlier Thursday said it follows rules set out by German authorities that allow temporary absence from the flight deck.

"There is no rule that demands that always minimum two persons have to stay in the cockpit," said Holger Kasperski, a spokesman for the Federal Office for Civil Aviation of Germany. He said pilots are allowed to leave the cockpit, "for physical needs but not longer than necessary."

Regulations that cover all European Union airlines allow for flight crew members on duty in the cockpit to leave their station "for physiological needs" as long as "one suitably qualified pilot remains at the controls of the aircraft at all times." If the pilot who leaves the deck is the pilot in command, they have to formally hand over control to the pilot who remains behind in the cockpit.

As far as getting back in after leaving the cockpit, former pilots and aviation experts told NBC News that most planes have coded entry door controls, but these can be overridden with a double lock — a practice implemented industry-wide after the 9/11 attacks.

"The cockpit has the ultimate control of the door," said Captain John Cox, a former pilot and NBC News aviation analyst . "If it is placed in the override mode then no matter what is done with the code pad, the door will remain locked. The security people were very firm on the need for the flight deck to remain the ultimate authority."

Following the crash, discount European airline Norwegian Air Shuttle announced it would start requiring two people in the cockpit at all times.

Bottom photo: Victim Emily Selke is seen in this undated photo posted to Facebook by Gamma Sigma.

Photo: Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who authorities say deliberately crashed a plane with 150 people on board in the French Alps.
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