MARIGNANE, France: The co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings flight appears to have deliberately crashed the plane after locking his captain out of the cockpit, French officials said, with the “unimaginable” development sparking global shock and anger among victims’ loved ones.
In a chilling account of the final minutes of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525, lead prosecutor Brice Robin said on Thursday (Friday in Manila) that 28-year-old German Andreas Lubitz initiated the plane’s descent into the French Alps while alone at the controls.
Lubitz appeared to “show a desire to want to destroy” the plane, Robin told reporters after his team analyzed the Airbus A320’s cockpit voice recorder.
The first officer, who was described by neighbors and fellow flying club members as a “friendly” guy-next-door type who enjoyed jogging with his girlfriend, was not however believed to be part of a terrorist plot, officials said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the revelation added an “absolutely unimaginable dimension” to Tuesday’s tragedy, in which 150 people were killed, mostly German and Spanish nationals.
It prompted airlines to review their cockpit policies, many announcing they will now require two crew members in the cockpit at all times.
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he was “deeply shaken” by the news and sent his “heartfelt affection” to the victims’ families, dozens of whom had arrived near the crash site.
They were briefed by the prosecutor, who said they reacted with “shock” to the findings.
Robin said the passengers were killed “instantly” by the crash and were probably unaware of the impending disaster until the “very last moment.”
“The screams are heard only in the last instants before the impact,” he said.
“The co-pilot was alone at the controls,” he said. “[He] deliberately refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot,” he added.
The pilot, believed to have gone to the toilet, made increasingly furious attempts to re-enter the cockpit, banging on the door, the recordings appear to show.
In the northwestern German town of Haltern, which lost 16 students and two teachers killed while returning from a school exchange, the revelations caused shock and anger.
“Personally, I’m stunned, angry, speechless and deeply shocked,” Haltern’s mayor Bodo Klimpel told a news conference.
The shaken principal of the stricken school, Ulrich Wessel, said “what makes all of us so angry [is]that a suicide can lead to the deaths of 149 other people. It leaves us angry, perplexed, stunned.”
The head of Germanwings’ parent company Lufthansa, Carsten Spohr, said that “in our worst nightmares we could not have imagined that this kind of tragedy could happen to us.”
The French prosecutor downplayed the likelihood of Lubitz accidentally taking the plane down with an involuntary turn of the descent button.