Killer co-pilot made trial run before jet crash massacre
Andreas Lubitz practised reducing flight altitude on the outbound flight from Düsseldorf to Barcelona on the same day as the Germanwings crash, according to a new French investigators' report revealed yesterday.
The co-pilot suspected of deliberately crashing the plane in the French Alps in March, killing all 150 people on board, rehearsed the descent on the previous flight, it has emerged.
The changes in autopilot settings, mimicking those which crashed the jet on its way back to Düsseldorf from Barcelona some two hours later, would barely have been noticeable because the jet was already descending, investigators said.
"I can't speculate on what was happening inside his head; all I can say is that he changed this button to the minimum setting of 100 feet and he did it several times," said Remi Jouty, director of the French BEA accident investigation agency.
Shortly after the aircraft had reached cruise height on the return flight, the captain told Lubitz he was leaving the cockpit. Just over 30 seconds after the door closed, leaving Lubitz alone at the controls, the 27-year-old entered the instruction he had previously rehearsed, ordering the plane to descend to 100ft on autopilot: easily low enough to crash into the mountains ahead.
He then altered another dial to speed the jet up.
The findings come from examination of cockpit voice recordings and flight data taken from the aircraft's two 'black boxes'.
The BEA, whose investigation runs in parallel to judicial probes, will issue a final report in about a year that may include recommendations on cockpit doors and the handling of pilots' medical records by the airline industry.
Prosecutors believe the 27-year-old locked the captain out of the cockpit and veered the plane into an early descent on a flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf on March 24.
German newspaper 'Bild', also cited sources as saying Lubitz exercised a "controlled descent that lasted for minutes and for which there was no aeronautical justification".
Lubitz had suffered from severe depression in the past and a computer found in his home showed he had used the internet to research ways of committing suicide in the days leading up to the crash.
Prosecutors also found torn-up sick notes at his home, showing he should not have flown on the day of the flight.
Yesterday's revelations raise significant questions as to why nobody registered his manoeuvre and, more importantly, why was he not grounded in Barcelona. However, according to the BBC, the interim French investigation report explains that puzzle. Over the course of three or four minutes, Lubitz did indeed designate "100 feet" as the selected flight level. He did this several times, while the pilot was out of the cockpit.
But this was just after the plane had already begun its descent. After each occasion that he chose "100 feet", he then corrected himself and entered the correct flight level.
Because of this, the course of the plane was not altered at all.
The changes apparently happened over a five-minute period at about 7.30am on the day of the Germanwings crash.
A graph in the report shows the selected altitude on the previous flight was reduced several times to 100ft.
The outward flight left Düsseldorf at 6.01am, arriving in Barcelona at 7.57am.
Last month, German prosecutors revealed that Lubitz had researched suicide methods and the security of cockpit doors.
Back in March, a passenger on the flight from Düsseldorf to Barcelona described seeing the captain come out into the main cabin, leaving Lubitz alone in the cockpit.
During that time, we now know that Lubitz set the plane's altitude to just 100 feet, in a possible rehearsal or abandoned first attempt to crash the aircraft.
The passenger, named only as Michael F, told 'Bild' that there was a problem with the toilet at the front of the cabin.
He described seeing the captain walk the length of the plane, presumably to the rear toilet.
That may have caused him to be out of the cockpit longer than he intended. (© Daily Telegraph, London)