Depression theory over Germanwings co-pilot

Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz in San Francisco, California. Picture: AP
Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz in San Francisco, California. Picture: AP
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THE pilot who crashed a Germanwings flight into the Alps appeared to have hidden an illness from the airline and had a sick note for the day of the disaster, prosecutors said yesterday.

Andreas Lubitz, who killed 150 people on Tuesday after locking himself in the cockpit, was a patient at a Dusseldorf hospital and reportedly suffered from depression.

German media said he had a history of depression and had received psychological treatment, and may have affected by a falling out with his girlfriend.

Prosecutors were yesterday poring over the 28-year-old’s medical records following searches of his and his parents’ home to seek an explanation for his suicidal actions.

Dusseldorf prosecutors’ office spokesman Ralf Herrenbrueck said torn-up sick notes for the day of the crash “support the current preliminary assessment that the deceased hid his illness from his employer and colleagues”.

Such sick notes from doctors excusing employees from work are common in Germany, even for minor illnesses.

Prosecutors have not said what type of illness – mental or physical – Lubitz may have been suffering from but German media reported he had suffered from depression. A hospital confirmed he had been a patient there over the past two months.

Dusseldorf University Hospital said he last came to the hospital for a “diagnostic evaluation” on 10 March. It declined to provide details but denied reports it had treated Lubitz for depression.

The hospital said it had submitted Lubitz’s medical file to prosecutors in Dusseldorf. Investigators removed many boxes of items from his flat in Dusseldorf and his parents’ house in Montabaur, near Frankfurt.

Mr Herrenbrueck said the medical documents found indicated “an existing illness and appropriate medical treatment”, but no suicide note was found.

He added there was no indication of any political or religious motivation for Lubitz’s actions.

France’s prime minister called on Lufthansa to provide all information about Lubitz.

Manuel Valls said Lufthansa should give the maximum of information “so that we can understand why this pilot got to the point of this horrific action”.

The Barcelona to Dusseldorf flight descended for eight minutes before crashing, killing all six crew and 144 passengers, including three Britons.

Neighbours said Lubitz had been in superb physical health, and records showed he had taken part in several long-distance runs.

Johannes Rossmann, who lives near his parents, said: “He definitely did not smoke. He really took care of himself. He always went jogging. I am not sure whether he did marathons, but he was very healthy.”

A German aviation official said Lubitz’s file at the country’s Federal Aviation Office contained a “SIC” note, meaning he needed “specific regular medical examination”.

Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr has said there was a “several-month” gap in Lubitz’s training six years ago, but would not elaborate.

However, he said, Lubitz then “not only passed all medical tests but also his flight training, all flying tests and checks”.

The US Federal Aviation Administration had issued Lubitz with a third-class medical certificate. To obtain this, a pilot must be cleared of psychological problems including psychosis, bipolar disorder and personality disorders.

The certificate also means Lubitz wasn’t found to be suffering from another mental health condition that “makes the person unable to safely perform the duties or exercise the privileges” of a pilot’s licence.

However, experts said it is possible that someone with mental health problems could have hidden them from employers or a doctor without specialist training.

Dr Raj Persaud, a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “It’s a high-stakes situation for pilots because they know if they give the wrong answer, they could lose their licence.”

Doctors and psychiatrists in Germany are obliged to abide by medical secrecy unless their patient explicitly tells them he or she plans to commit an act of violence.

The president of the German pilots union Cockpit said medical check-ups were done by certified doctors and take place once a year.

Ilja Schulz said: “At the moment, all the evidence points clearly in one direction and it’s the most likely scenario, there’s no doubt about that.

“But all the pieces must be put together, to see whether there were any other factors that played a role, or not. Only then can you draw lessons.”

In France, police at the crash site said they had recovered between 400 and 600 pieces of human remains so far.

Patrick Touron, of the gendarme service, said “we haven’t found a single body intact.”

He also said DNA samples have been taken from objects provided by the victims’ families – such as toothbrushes – that could help identify the victims.

Touron also said jewellery and other objects could help in the identification process of victims.

SEE ALSO:

Germanwings co-pilot crash prompts safety review

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