America Is On The Same Glide Path As The Fatal Germanwings Flight
The pilot was locked out of the cockpit. That phrase finally revealed the full horror of the crash of Germanwings flight 9525.
Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz waited for the pilot to leave the cockpit then locked the door to prevent his re-entry. After which Lubitz, for reasons unknown and perhaps unknowable, deliberately steered the jet into a harrowing 8-minute plunge, ending in an explosive 434 mph impact with a rocky mountainside. One hundred fifty men, women and children met an immediate, unthinkably violent death.
Lubitz, in his single-minded madness, couldn’t be stopped because anyone who could change the jet’s disastrous course was locked out.
It’s hard to imagine the growing feelings of fear and helplessness that the passengers felt as the unforgiving landscape rushed up to meet them. Hard, but not impossible.
America is in very deep trouble and we feel the descent in the pits of our stomachs. We hear the shake and rattle of structures stressed beyond their limits. We don’t know where we’re going anymore, but do know it isn’t good. And above all, we feel helpless because Barack Obama has locked us out.
He locked the American people out of his decision to seize the national healthcare system.
He locked us out when we wanted to know why the IRS was attacking conservatives.
He locked us out of having a say in his decision to tear up our immigration laws and to give over a trillion dollars in benefits to those who broke those laws.
Obama locked out those who advised against premature troop withdrawals. He locked out the intelligence agencies who issued warnings about the growing threat of ISIS.
He locked out anyone who could have interfered with his release of five Taliban terror chiefs in return for one U.S. Military deserter.
And, of course, Barack Obama has now locked out Congress, the American people, and our allies as he strikes a secret deal with Iran to determine the timeline (not prevention) of their acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Was Andreas Lubitz depressed, insane, or abysmally evil when he decided to lock that cockpit door and listen to no voices other than those in his head? Did he somehow believe himself to be doing the right thing? The voice recordings from the doomed aircraft reveal that as the jet began its rapid descent, the passengers were quiet. There was probably some nervous laughter, confusion, a bit of comforting chatter with seat mates, followed by a brief period in which anxiety had not yet metastasized into terror. It was only near the end of the 8-minute plunge that everyone finally understood what was really happening. Only near the end when they began to scream.
Like those passengers, a growing number of Americans feel a helpless dread as they come to the inescapable conclusion that our nation’s decline is an act of choice rather than of chance.
The choice of one man who is in full control of our 8-year plunge. I wonder when America will begin to scream.
PARIS (AP) — The co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings flight repeatedly sped up the plane as he used the automatic pilot to descend the A320 into the Alps, the French air accident investigation agency said Friday.
The chilling new detail from the BEA agency is based on an initial reading of the plane’s “black box” data recorder, found blackened and buried at the crash site Thursday.
It strengthens investigators’ initial suspicions that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally destroyed the plane — though prosecutors are still trying to figure out why. All 150 people aboard Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf were killed in the March 24 crash.
The BEA said the preliminary reading of the data recorder shows that the pilot used the automatic pilot to put the plane into a descent and then repeatedly during the descent adjusted the automatic pilot to speed up the plane.
The agency says it will continue studying the black box for more complete details of what happened. The Flight Data Recorder records aircraft parameters such as the speed, altitude, and actions of the pilot on the commands.
Based on recordings from the plane’s other black box, the cockpit voice recorder, investigators say Lubitz locked the pilot out of the cockpit and deliberately crashed.
Lubitz spent time online researching suicide methods and cockpit door security in the week before crashing Flight 9525, prosecutors said Thursday — the first evidence that the fatal descent may have been a premeditated act.
German prosecutors have said Lubitz’s medical records from before he received his pilot’s license referred to “suicidal tendencies,” and Lufthansa, Germanwings’ parent company, said it knew six years ago that Lubitz had had an episode of “severe depression” before he finished his flight training.
In Marseille, prosecutor Brice Robin said that his investigation focuses on France for now, but he has filed a formal request for judicial cooperation from Germany that could expand the scope of his probe.
Robin underlined French investigators’ conviction that he was conscious until the moment of impact, and appears to have acted repeatedly to stop an excessive speed alarm from sounding.
“It’s a voluntary action that guided this plane toward the mountain, not only losing altitude but correcting the aircraft’s speed,” he said Thursday.
The mountain rescue officer who found the data recorder, Alice Coldefy, described Friday the unexpected discovery in a spot that had already been repeatedly searched.
“I found a pile of clothes, we were searching it, we were moving them downhill and while doing this I discovered a box. The color of the box was the same as the gravel, of the black gravel, that is everywhere at the crash site,” she told reporters in Seyne-les-Alpes.
So-called black boxes are actually orange, but this one had burned up in the crash and blended with the dark earth covering the area, known to local guides as “the black lands.”
“I didn’t realize I had found it and I wasn’t thinking it was possible to find it among all this debris,” she said.
Mountain officers and trained dogs are continuing to search the site. When the terrain is fully cleared of body parts and belongings, a private company will take out the large airplane debris.
Lufthansa knew of co-pilot’s previous ‘severe depression’ in 2009
BERLIN — The co-pilot who crashed Flight 9525 into a French mountainside last week had informed the German carrier Lufthansa in 2009 about a “previous episode of severe depression,” the airline said on Tuesday, raising fresh questions about the series of decisions that allowed Andreas Lubitz to stay in the skies.
The admission that the company knew at least some of the history of Lubitz’s mental illness came after the company’s chief executive, Carsten Spohr, said publicly last week that Lufthansa — parent of the budget airline Germanwings for which Lubitz worked — had no previous knowledge of his medical history.
In a statement Tuesday, however, the carrier said it wanted to issue a “swift and seamless clarification.” In 2009, Lubitz had taken several months off during his training to become a pilot. When he resumed the program, Lufthansa said, he provided the airline “medical documents” that noted his bout of severe depression.
The company said it had forwarded those documents to prosecutors who are now handling the crash as a homicide case.
Under European aviation law, pilots with active and untreated cases of depression are prevented from flying. But if deemed medically cured, there may have been no legal impediment for Lubitz to continue his training and obtain his license, experts say.
However, pilots who have attempted “a single self-destructive act” — such as suicide — are legally barred from commercial flying. Also, pilots who are taking psychotropic medications — such as popular antidepressants — as part of their therapy, for instance, have some limitations, including a stipulation that they not be alone in the cockpit.
German prosecutors said Monday that Lubitz had suffered from “suicidal tendencies” for which he was treated over an extended period. The prosecutors said that the treatment occurred before he was issued a pilot’s license and that they had found no indications that he was recently suicidal.
But Germany authorities have said that he had been issued multiple doctors’ notes judging him unfit to work, including one covering the day of the plane crash. At least one of the notes was found torn up in his apartment.
The system depends on employees reporting their own medical conditions to their employers, and Lufthansa has said that it was not aware of the recent medical problems.
An official familiar with the investigation said Tuesday that authorities were not examining the Lufthansa Group for any negligence. Lufthansa provided investigators with information about Lubitz’s airline medical examinations and copies of previous correspondence with the airline, the official said. But since the depressive episode occurred in 2009, the official said that investigators did not believe Lufthansa was immediately culpable.
During Lubitz’s employment with Germanwings, starting in 2013, his medical certificates and examinations declared him flightworthy.
A Lufthansa spokeswoman said that the company had graduated him from its rigorous flight school, despite the previous depressive episode, because following medical checks “he was perceived to be healed.”
“At any time he was flying, he was declared fit to fly,” the spokeswoman said, who spoke on the condition that her name not be used, a German custom.
When asked whether Lufthansa had known about any subsequent psychological condition, she said: “Not that we are aware of.”
Germany’s medical examinations for pilots give a yes-or-no answer to employers about whether aviators are ready to fly, offering no space for additional information or caveats. Officials familiar with the investigation have said that one working theory is that Lubitz was concerned about losing his medical certificate when it came up for renewal later this year.
Michael Müller, chief executive of ATTC, a company that helps prepare pilot candidates for entering flight schools, including Lufthansa’s, defended the carrier’s track record. He said he was aware of at least one instance, for example, when the company had pulled a pilot from the cockpit after his ex-wife had committed suicide.
“I’m afraid it will never be possible to prevent these things from happening entirely,” he said. “In my view, Lufthansa did not fail. When a doctor says someone is healthy and he is certifying this, then he is allowed to fly. In a pilot’s career, it can happen that you get ill, also psychologically. You can’t simply say, ‘We’ll let him go.’ ”
The Lufthansa Group has already offered $53,635 to families of every victim to cover immediate living expenses. The new revelation was likely to open the airline to far greater damages. A Lufthansa spokesman said Tuesday that its insurer, Allianz, had set aside $300 million to pay for liability claims from victims’ families.
French President François Hollande visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday, where the two discussed the ongoing investigation into the catastrophe alongside a range of other issues.
Hollande called for bolstering the checks on pilots over European skies, saying that he was working toward “ensuring that we can strengthen our safety rules for piloting these aircraft.”
He said that more than 800 people were laboring at the mountain crash site to push the investigation forward as quickly as possible.
Separately, a French aviation investigation agency said Tuesday that it had begun a study of “systemic weaknesses” that may have led to the crash. The French Bureau of Investigations and Analyses for Civil Aviation Security said it would focus on the procedures used “to detect psychological profiles,” as well as look at cockpit safety rules.
German investigators offered few new details about the status of their inquiry on Tuesday. One official familiar with the investigation said that the initial questioning of Lubitz’s family and girlfriend had been completed but that investigators remained in contact with them as new issues arose.
The official said that neither Lubitz’s parents nor his girlfriend were aware of any suicidal impulses ahead of the plane crash.
French investigators confirmed that they had found traces of Andreas Lubitz’s body among the crash debris high in the mountains where the wreckage of the downed Airbus A320 – en route to Dusseldorf from Barcelona – fell.
German newspaper Bild confirmed that French authorities believe they have located Lubitz’s remains.
Families of those killed are understood to have been invited to give DNA samples to expedite the identification of their loved ones.
“For us, it makes it particularly difficult that the only victim from Montabaur is suspected to have caused this tragedy, this crash – although this has not been finally confirmed,” pastor Michael Dietrich said.
“The co-pilot, the family belong to our community, and we stand by this, and we embrace them and will not hide this, and want to support the family in particular.”
Meanwhile an ally of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has called forGermany’s draconian privacy laws to be relaxed to prevent a repeat of the Germanwings tragedy.
Dirk Fischer, CDU transport expert, has proposed an easing of medical confidentiality for those in sensitive jobs.
Under his proposals pilots would “go to doctors that are specified by the employer,” he told the Rheinische Post newspaper.
The doctors would then be obliged to warn employers and the Federal Aviation Authority of any pressing concerns such as serious mental disorders.
Killer co-pilot Andreas Lubitz sought treatment for problems with his vision in the weeks before he deliberately crashed his Germanwings A320 Airbus into the French Alps.
The problems may have meant the end of his flying career, officials disclosed.
He was also treated by several neurologists and psychiatrists for ‘severe overload syndrome’, which can be debilitating. Whether his vision complaints were linked to his psychological difficulties is unknown.
Erratic: Lubitz (pictured) was a master of hiding his darkest thoughts and would wake up from nightmares screaming ‘we’re going down’. He also told his former lover that he was planning a heinous act
Officers reportedly found a variety of drugs used to treat mental illness at his flat in Dusseldorf, appearing to substantiate claims he was severely depressed.
And a former partner described him as a tormented, erratic man who was a master of hiding his darkest thoughts and would wake up from nightmares screaming ‘we’re going down’.
The 26-year-old Germanwings stewardess, known only as Maria W, revealed to a German newspaper how Lubitz ominously told her last year:
‘One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.’
It is not clear how severe Lubitz’ eye problems were, but officials confirmed that evidence found at his home suggested he was being treated for psychological issues. It is understood that he hid his health problems from Germanwings.
Two officials with knowledge of the investigation said the authorities had not ruled out the possibility that the problems with his vision could have been psychosomatic, the New York Times reported.
The revelation came after German investigators revealed that the 27-year-old should have been off sick on the day he deliberately flew his 149 passengers and colleagues to their deaths in the Alps.
Investigators said medical sign-off notes were found at his home – including at least one that covered the day of the crash – and Dusseldorf University Hospital confirmed he had been a patient there over the past two months.
While the hospital would not initially disclose his condition, bosses confirmed that he had been evaluated at the clinic in February and on March 10.
The hospital, which has its own eye clinic, later denied speculation that he sought treatment for depression at the centre but would not confirm he had attended for vision problems, citing privacy laws.
It came as German newspaper Welt am Sonntag said police found evidence at his flat which suggested he was suffering from ‘severe burnout syndrome’ – a serious psychosomatic illness.
A source in the police investigation team told the newspaper that Lubitz was treated by several neurologists and psychiatrists, before adding: ‘This is clear from personal notes stored and collected by the pilot.’
‘Severe burnout syndrome’ is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion and is often linked to those in jobs with high stress levels.
It’s symptoms include alienation and negativity towards their work environment and colleagues and it is also known to cause suicidal tendencies and anger issues.
German state prosecutors and police declined to comment on the media reports, adding there would be no official statements on the case before Monday.
Earlier, Lubitz’s former lover Maria, who claimed to have dated the pilot and keen runner for five months after the pair met while flying across Europe together, said he ‘never really’ spoke of illness but she was aware he was receiving psychiatric treatment.
She said they spent ‘several nights’ in hotels together and described him as a ‘nice and open-minded’ man.
However, she claimed there was a difference between his professional and his private ego, with him being ‘soft’ and needing love when the couple were alone but becoming ‘someone else’ when they talked about work.
She told Bild: ‘We spoke a lot about work and then he became another person. He became agitated about the circumstances in which he had to work, too little money, anxiety about his contract and too much pressure.’
His personal problems and erratic behaviour became so severe that the flight attendant decided to call the relationship off after fearing his increasingly volatile temper.
‘During conversations he’d suddenly throw a tantrum and scream at me,’ she said. ‘I was afraid. He even once locked me in the bathroom for a long time.’
Despite parting from Lubitz, Maria said previous conversations with him suddenly ‘made sense’ when she heard about the crash on Tuesday.
She said: ‘When I heard about the crash, there was just a tape playing in my head of what he said: “One day I will do something that will change the system and everyone will then know my name and remember me”.
‘I did not know what he meant by that at the time, but now it’s clear.’
She added: ‘The torn up sick notes make sense now to me and were a clear sign that he did not want to admit that his big dream of flying as a captain was over.’
The co-pilot of the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps deliberately worked to destroy the plane while passengers shrieked in terror and the pilot pounded on the cockpit door, a French prosecutor said at a news conference Thursday in Marseille.
“This was voluntary, this was deliberate,” Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said. “He refused to open the cabin door in order to let the pilot back in. I repeat. He refused to let the pilot back in. He is the one who pressed the button that allowed the plane to begin descending and lose altitude.”
The information was obtained from the cockpit voice recorder of doomed Flight 9525, which suddenly began an eight-minute descent before smashing into a rugged ravine in the French Alps on Tuesday. The data recorder for the flight from Barcelona bound for Düsseldorf, Germany, has not yet been found.
Robin said the co-pilot, identified as German national Andreas Lubitz, 27, was not on a terror watch list. A federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY the FBI has been running the flight manifests through its databases but so far has found no connection to terrorism.
Lubitz said nothing during the descent, but could be heard breathing until the crash, Robin said.
“The co-pilot is the only one in the cockpit,’ Robin said. “While he is alone he somehow manipulated the buttons on the flight monitoring system. He was alone at the helm of this Airbus.”
Robin stressed the actions were deliberate. He said passengers could be heard screaming in fear.
“We start hearing banging, someone actually trying to break the door down,” Robin said. “That’s why the alarms were let off — because these were protocols that were put in place in case of any terror attack.”
Robin said the plane apparently glided until it crashed into the ravine, a sound heard on the voice recorder.
“Again, no distress signal, zero, no ‘help me’ or SOS,” he said. “Nothing of this sort was received by air-traffic control.”
Robin said the voice recorder indicated dialogue between the pilot and co-pilot was normal. Robin said informed the families of the developments and that they were in shock.
German, French and Spanish authorities are investigating the crash. The FBI issued a statement saying it was offering to help French officials leading the investigation.
German carrier Lufthansa, which owns the low-cost airline, offered special flights from Barcelona and Düsseldorf to Marseille, so that those close to the victims can be near the scene of the search and recovery efforts in the French Alps.
“We are shaken by the upsetting statements of the French authorities. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families and friends of the victims,” Lufthansa tweeted.
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said he was left “speechless” by Robin’s horrifying description of events, but said evidence thus far supports them.
“This action on the altitude controls can only be deliberate,” Spohr said. “The most plausible interpretation is that the co-pilot, through a voluntary act, refused to open the cabin door to let the captain in. He pushed the button to trigger the aircraft to lose altitude.
“He operated this button for a reason we don’t know yet, but it appears that the reason was to destroy this plane.”
U.S. cockpit regulations don’t allow a pilot to be left alone in a cockpit. The Air Line Pilots Association issued a statement saying U.S. airline procedures are “designed to ensure that there is never a situation where a pilot is left alone in the cockpit.”
Lufthansa said Lubitz joined Germanwings in September 2013, directly after training, and had flown 630 hours. Spohr said the co-pilot began training in Bremen, Germany, in 2008 and later trained in Arizona.
Spohr said there was a brief interruption in training in 2009 but that he had completed qualifications for the job. German media outlets quoted classmates as saying Lubitz interrupted his training due to “burnout” and “depression.”
Lubitz was included in the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s database of certified pilots.
“He passed all medical tests, he passed all aviation tests, he passed all checks,” Spohr said. “He was 100% able to fly without any limitations, without any reservations. His accomplishments were excellent. Nothing was noticed that wasn’t proper.”
Spohr said there were no indications that the co-pilot was dealing with a terrorist incident in the cockpit.
“We are speechless at Lufthansa and Germanwings,” Spohr said. “We are shocked.”
Officials have not identified the pilot, but multiple media outlets have identified him as Patrick Sonderheimer. He had more than 6,000 hours of flying time and had been Germanwings pilot since May 2014, having previously flown for Lufthansa and Condor. Robin said Sonderheimer’s family is in France and would be interviewed by investigators.
PARIS — As officials struggled Wednesday to explain why a jet with 150 people on board crashed amid a relatively clear sky, an investigator said evidence from a cockpit voice recorder indicated one pilot left the cockpit before the plane’s descent and was unable to get back in.
A senior French military official involved in the investigation described a “very smooth, very cool” conversation between the pilots during the early part of the flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany. Then the audio indicated that one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter.
“The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer,” the investigator said. “And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer.”
He said, “You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”
While the audio seemed to give some insight into the circumstances leading to the Germanwings crash on Tuesday morning, it also left many questions unanswered.
“We don’t know yet the reason why one of the guys went out,” said the official, who requested anonymity because the investigation was continuing. “But what is sure is that at the very end of the flight, the other pilot is alone and does not open the door.”
The data from the voice recorder seems only to deepen the mystery surrounding the crash and provides no indication of the condition or activity of the pilot who remained in the cockpit. The descent from 38,000 feet over about 10 minutes was alarming but still gradual enough to indicate that the twin-engineAirbus A320 had not been damaged catastrophically. At no point during the descent was there any communication from the cockpit to air traffic controllers or any other signal of an emergency.
When the plane plowed into craggy mountains northeast of Nice, it was traveling with enough speed that it was all but pulverized, killing the 144 passengers and crew of six and leaving few clues.
The French aviation authorities have made public very little, officially, about the nature of the information that has been recovered from the audio recording, and it was not clear whether it was complete. France’s Bureau of Investigations and Analyses confirmed only that human voices and other cockpit sounds had been detected and would be subjected to detailed analysis.
Asked about the new evidence revealed in the cockpit recordings, Martine del Bono, a bureau spokeswoman, declined to comment. “Our teams continue to work on analyzing the CVR,” she said, referring to the cockpit voice recorder. “As soon as we have accurate information we intend to hold a press conference.”
Meanwhile, prosecutors in Marseille, who have been tasked with a separate criminal inquiry into the crash, could not immediately be reached for comment. Brice Robin, the Marseille prosecutor, was due to meet Thursday morning with the families of the crash victims.
At the crash site, a senior official working on the investigation said, workers found the casing of the plane’s other so-called black box, the flight data recorder, but the memory card containing data on the plane’s altitude, speed, location and condition was not inside, apparently having been thrown loose or destroyed by the impact.
The passengers who boarded Germanwings flight 4U 9525 at Barcelona’s El Prat airport on Tuesday morning were the usual midweek mixture of tourists, business travellers and families, each with a busy and in some cases dramatic morning already behind them by the time they settled into their seats.
There were schoolchildren returning home from a Spanish exchange trip who had mislaid their passports and had to rush to catch the flight; parents negotiating the tricky task of travelling with babies, and frequent flyers, including the opera singers Oleg Bryjak and Maria Radner, returning home after a performance at the Gran Teatre del Liceu.
The ground crew responsible for the Airbus A320 were also having a busy morning. The aircraft had landed at 7.57GMT, with 122 passengers on board, and with a scheduled take-off time for Dusseldorf of 8.35GMT, it had to be cleaned, refuelled, restocked and checked over in less than 40 minutes.
It had been grounded in Dusseldorf earlier in the day for an hour because of a problem with the nose wheel door – which Germanwings said had been resolved – then took off more than 25 minutes late from Barcelona for reasons which are not yet clear. By 9.01 the Airbus was back in the air, heading north for what should have been a 90-minute flight.
All was normal for the next 40 minutes. The Airbus, with an experienced crew at the controls, slowly climbed to its cruising altitude of 38,000ft, which it reached at 9.45 in the skies over southern France. But then something went catastrophically wrong.
Less than a minute after reaching 38,000ft, the aircraft went into a steep and terminal descent. The pilots made no request to air traffic control to begin an unscheduled descent, and for the next eight minutes the aircraft plunged back down to earth at a rate of 4,000ft per minute.
Sébastien Giroud, who owns a local sawmill, looked up and saw it. “The plane was flying very low, maybe 1,500 or 2,000 metres,” he said. “It was impressive, it seemed it was going down. I said to myself: ‘It won’t pass the mountains’.”
No Mayday signal was sent during that eight-minute fall to earth, no message was relayed to French air traffic control to say the aircraft was in trouble. The aircraft remained intact, automatically relaying its altitude, airspeed and heading to air traffic control, and at 9.47 air traffic controllers implemented an aircraft distress alert, based on its rapid loss of height. At 9.53, all contact was lost.
It had dived to an altitude of 6,000ft when its last signal was sent, and “the plane then crashed,” to quote the unvarnished words of Germanwings’ Managing Director Thomas Winkelmann.
Without any apparent attempt by the pilot and co-pilot to correct the dive, the aircraft had flown into a mountain in the Alps called Les Trois Eveches, between Digne-les-Bains and Barcelonnette, north-west of Monaco, where it had “disintegrated”, in the words of one local official.
“It was a deafening noise. I thought it was an avalanche, although it sounded slightly different,” said Sandrine Boisse, president of the Pra Loup tourism office. “It was short noise and lasted just a few seconds.”
Pierre Polizzi, the owner of a local campsite, said the aircraft was making unusual noises before it crashed.
“There are often fighter jets flying over, so I thought it sounded just like that,” he said. “I looked outside but I couldn’t see any fighter planes. The noise I heard was long – like eight seconds – as if the plane was going more slowly than a military plane speed. There was another long noise about 30 seconds later.”
In Haltern am See, 50 miles from Dusseldorf, parents waiting for their 15-year-old children to return from the exchange trip began to hear media reports that there had been a plane crash.
Bodo Klimpel, the mayor of the town, said students began searching online for news of the aircraft, “and then when the plane didn’t land and they were unable to make contact with their friends and classmates by cell phone, that’s when they assumed the worst had happened”.
Parents who were not already at the airport expecting to collect their children made their way there or to the school, desperately hoping there might, somehow, be good news.
On the ground in France, however, hope had died almost as soon as the mountainous location of the crash was known.
Two helicopters from the gendarmerie were sent up to fly over the crash site, and all they could see was wreckage. Pieces of fuselage with rows of windows still intact were among the only pieces of aircraft recognisable from the air.
President Francois Hollande quickly took the decision that it would be wrong to give false hope, and announced that he did not expect any survivors among the 150 passengers and crew. “It is a tragedy on our soil,” he said.
His assessment was confirmed hours later when the first helicopter managed to land near the crash site. The crew found only human remains, and lumps of wreckage the size of cars.
By early evening, the first of the Black Box flight recorders had been recovered, holding vital information that will hopefully answer the question of why a well-maintained aircraft suddenly dropped out of the sky in one of the safest air corridors in the world, during the safest part of its journey.
The pilot, as yet unnamed, had 10 years’ experience and 6,000 hours flying Airbuses for Lufthansa and Germanwings. The aircraft, called Mannheim, was 25 years old, with 46,700 flights in its logbook, but had always been owned by Lufthansa and went through routine maintenance on Monday as well as a major overhaul in 2013.
Suspicion has fallen on the computer technology used the fly the A320, and in particular its “angle of attack” sensors that tell it whether it is pointing up, down, or is level.
Last year an Airbus A321 owned by Lufthansa went into a sudden descent at 31,000ft, falling at the same rate – 4,000ft per minute – before the crew managed to regain control.
The European Air Safety Directive said in that incident the aircraft’s angle of attack sensors had become blocked and tricked the computer into thinking the aircraft was about to stall.
The EASA said that in that situation: “The flight control laws order a continuous nose down pitch rate that, in a worst case scenario, cannot be stopped with backward sidestick inputs, even in the full backward position.
“This condition, if not corrected, could result in loss of control of the aeroplane.”
Another possibility was that the crew had been suddenly incapacitated, possibly by a fire or explosion in the cockpit, but terrorism and sabotage has been all but ruled out already.
Dr Stephen Wright, a lecturer in air transport at Leeds University, said: “It just doesn’t make sense – the ground crew would naturally look for somewhere to land, and it is very unusual for the crew not to be able to communicate with the ground.
“Even in the case of rapid decompression, they are trained to deal with that and rehearse these scenarios every six months on a simulator.”
At the crash site, mountain rescue teams on the ground will spend the next days helping helicopter crews to airlift bodies off the slopes, though the process of recovering all the wreckage is likely to take much longer.
In the nearby town of Seyne a gym is being transformed into a temporary morgue, where DNA samples will be taken from bodies to be matched with samples taken from toothbrushes or other personal effects provided by relatives.
Lieutenant-colonel Jean-Paul Bloy said: “It will take several days to recover the victims.
“The crash zone is very steep and rugged mountain. The debris is scattered over an area of about one hectare and it is very difficult to access.
“There are a dozen large areas of debris, the rest is very fragmented. It will be extremely complicated to identify the sites. The victims will be evacuated first and then the debris.”
Several Germanwings flights cancelled after crew refused to fly
Pilots and cabin crew refused to fly over concerns the Germanwings flight 4U 9525 crash may have been linked to a repair to the nose-wheel landing doors
Several Germanwings flights were cancelled on Tuesday after their crews refused to fly, as it emerged that the aircraft which crashed in the French Alps had been grounded for an hour for repairs the day before the accident.
Pilots and cabin crew refused to fly over concerns the crash may have been linked to a repair to the nose-wheel landing doors on Monday, according to an unconfirmed report in Spiegel magazine.
Tributes outside the Joseph Koenig school in Haltern (Rex)
Lufthansa denied that there was any link between the repair and the cancelled flights.
Crews were refusing to fly for “personal reasons”, a spokesman for the airline group said.
The airline confirmed that the aircraft which crashed into the Alps had been grounded for an hour on Monday for repairs to the nose-wheel landing doors, but insisted the issue was not “safety-related”.
“The repair was purely to fix a noise that the door was making, and the aircraft was flying again from 10am on Monday,” the spokesman said.
It completed several flights safely after the repair before the accident, she added.
Lufthansa admitted that several Germanwings flights had to be cancelled after crews refused to fly, but said it was because they were in “deep distress” over the accident.
Wreckage from the plane was strewn across the crash site (AFP)
A report in the online version of the widely respected Spiegel claimed that the crews’ reluctance to fly was linked to concerns that the repair may have contributed to the flight.
Further disruption is expected today after Germanwings flights from Dusseldorf to several destinations were cancelled.