Germanwings: What It Wasn’t

In the wake of the mass murder/suicide Andreas Lubitz committed when he crashed Germanwings flight 9525 into the Alps last week, we’ve tried to find the reason. The airplane and his training as a pilot have been ruled out. Inquiries into Lubitz’ character and motivation are ongoing. We know he was not a Muslim terrorist, and any other political/religious motivation has been ruled out by German investigators. He did leave training for a period of time to be treated for depression, but a diagnosis of depression by itself cannot explain how Lubitz made his choice. He was suicidal, but that only shows us he was willing to kill himself, not everyone else also.

The intense interest into the life of Andreas Lubitz points to something obvious – he was the wrong man for the job – but also unnerving. How could Germanwings hire a man like this? Was there something wrong in the Germanwings hiring process?

 

Was Germanwings Copilot a Ticking Timebomb?

Andreas Lubitz’ ex-girlfriend provided some retrospective warnings about his mental state. She probably dismissed his statements that he would do things “that would change the system,” and  that “everyone will then know my name and remember me,” as delusional. This isn’t hard to connect to his actions to crash the Airbus. Still, we should wait until the data recorder has been recovered, which will show which buttons he pressed and which may prove his intent to fly into the Alps.

Germanwings just got very ugly

A French prosecutor has accused the First Officer, Andreas Lubitz, of deliberately crashing Germanwings 9525 into the Alps. After the aircraft reached cruise altitude, the Captain left the cockpit. Germanwings apparently does not require two people to be in the cockpit during the absence of one pilot, so the First Officer was able to use the locking system to keep the Captain out for the remainder of the flight.
This explains why this could not have been an emergency descent for a depressurization; in that case the First Officer would have added two steps to the descent: a level off at 10,000 ft and a turn toward the nearest suitable runway, at Marseilles Provence International Airport. These did not happen; Germanwings 9525 continued straight into the mountains.

Updates on Germanwings 9525

Wall Street Journal: the pilots didn’t speak to air traffic control much during the descent – if it was an emergency descent for depressurization, they were probably talking to each other, making sure they were managing the descent. Good video there too.
@AviationSafety tweets the vertical profile. It’s consistent with a controlled, albeit steep descent averaging more than 3,000 fpm (38,000 ft to approximately 6500 ft in 9m47s). In other words, an emergency descent profile.
Marin Medic, over at Russia Times, complains that the A320 is a “nanny plane” that is easy to fly, interfering with pilot inputs to keep the plane from, say, stalling. For example, like this plane … That objection is meaningless – he also speculates that this was an emergency descent due to a depressurization. In terms of its flight envelope, this aircraft was always in the heart of it.

If the initial speculation of a controlled descent is proven accurate (it’s too soon to tell while the black boxes remain unexamined), then Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) is a player. They began the descent over low terrain (or water), and never deviated from a course that took them over the Alps. Maybe they were caught up with the descent and didn’t think about their proximity to dirt until the “pullup, terrain” call from the Ground Proximity Warning System. If so, then the tape is going to be a chilling listen.

 

Germanwings A320 Down

CNN opens the speculation cavalcade with this video on Germanwings flight 9525. Curiously, the airplane descended with a constant speed and angle (assuming the graphic depicting vertical profile is accurate). Commentator Chad Myers, a meteorologist, is right to conclude that it was not an uncontrolled descent. This brings to mind the possibility of controlled flight into terrain. It’s an ugly thought. Also: why did CNN use a meteorologist to talk about this?

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