The German pilot suspected of deliberately crashing a plane in the French Alps last week was treated for suicidal tendencies years ago before he received his pilot’s license, according to German prosecutors.
The revelation that Andreas Lubitz, 27, had suffered bouts of depression is likely to intensify a debate about how airlines screen and monitor their pilots, Reuters reported.
Investigators believe Lubitz, serving as co-pilot on a Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf on March 24th, locked the captain out of the cockpit and steered the Airbus A320 plane into the side of a mountain while passengers screamed in horror. A total of 150 people died in the crash.
Lufthansa, the parent of the budget airline, has said it was not aware of anything in Lubitz’s which suggested he might have posed a risk.
It has confirmed that Lubitz broke off his pilot training in 2009 for nearly a year, around the time he was reportedly suffering from depression and anxiety.
“Several years ago before obtaining his pilot’s license the co-pilot ,” Duesseldorf prosecutors said in a statement on Monday.
They said that in recent years he had not shown signs of suicidal behavior or aggressive tendencies in visits to doctors.
After searching his family home in Montabaur and apartment in Duesseldorf, and following interviews with friends and relatives, the prosecutors said they had not found any evidence Lubitz was planning such an attack, nor the reasons behind it.
“No special circumstances have come to light, whether in his personal life or his work life, that shed any plausible light on a possible motive,” they said.
Lufthansa’s chief executive Carsten Spohr has said the airline prides itself on the rigorous selection methods of its pilot training scheme. The school is currently closed to new applicants, but around 6,000 people apply each year, with just 7-8 percent of them making the cut.
Lufthansa has also made clear that Lubitz’s medical records were subject to doctor-patient confidentiality and that the airline therefore had no knowledge of what they contained.
Under German law, employers do not have access to employees’ medical records and sick notes excusing a person from work do not give information on their medical condition.
Some politicians have called for a loosening of these rules in the wake of the Germanwings disaster.
But a spokeswoman for the German health ministry told reporters that doctors already had the right to break their vow of confidentiality if they thought their patients posed a danger to others.
French investigators said on Monday they were digging an access route to the mountain crash site in order to speed up the investigation.
The head of the French police forensic team told reporters it would take two to four months to identify the victims and that there was no certainty all would be identified because of the high speed at which the plane crashed.
“After a plane crash like this, the state of the bodies is not like after a simple car crash. The bodies are not necessarily whole, as the families know,” Colonel Francois Daoust, head of the French Gendarmerie’s criminal research Institute, told reporters.
He added that some 400 samples from body parts taken from the crash had allowed police to identify 78 different DNA profiles so far, but no identifications had been made as yet.
The plane’s second flight recorder, which contains flight data, has not yet been found.
Meanwhile, German insurer Allianz has estimated insurers will pay US$300 million in claims and costs stemming from the Germanwings plane crash, the news agency said.
The initial estimate represents about 20 percent of the US$1.5 billion in premiums in the global market for airline insurance. The estimate includes the loss of the aircraft, which is seen at about US$6.5 million, the recovery efforts, legal fees and indemnification of the passengers’ families.
Insurers traditionally estimate losses conservatively, taking as many costs as possible into account based on available information and past experience.
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