LUFTHANSA’S chief executive said yesterday it will take “a long, long time” to understand what led to a deadly crash in the Alps last week – but refused to say what the airline knew about the mental health of the co-pilot suspected of deliberately destroying the plane.
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr and the head of its low-cost airline Germanwings, Thomas Winkelmann, were visiting the crash area yesterday amid mounting questions about how much the airlines knew about co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’s psychological state and why they haven’t released more information about it.
The two men lay flowers and then stood silently facing a stone monument to the plane’s 150 victims. The monument looks toward the mountains where the Germanwings A320 crashed and shattered into thousands of pieces March 24 and bears a memorial message in German, Spanish, French and English.
Mr Spohr said the airline is “learning more every day” about what might have led to the crash but “it will take a long, long time to understand how this could happen”.
Thanking rescue workers and local residents, Mr Spohr said: “Everybody at Lufthansa knows how hard this work has been… We are very grateful.”
“We know the burden that has been put on this area, where nothing is the same anymore.
“We will do everything we can to turn this place into a place of mourning for relatives of the victims, and to restore this beautiful countryside.”
He then deflected questions from reporters at the site in Seyne-les-Alpes, and drove away.
Mr Spohr had previously said that Lufthansa was not aware of anything that could have driven the co-pilot to crash the Airbus A320.
After listening to the plane’s voice data recorder, investigators believe Mr Lubitz intentionally crashed the plane. Lufthansa acknowledged on Tuesday that it knew he had suffered from an episode of “severe depression” before he finished his flight training at the German airline, but that he has passed all his medical checks since.
German prosecutors say Mr Lubitz’s medical records from before he received his pilot’s license referred to “suicidal tendencies”, but visits to doctors since then showed no record of any suicidal tendencies or aggression against others.
The revelations intensify questions about how much Lufthansa and its insurers will pay in damages for the passengers who died – and about how thoroughly the aviation industry and government regulators screen pilots for psychological problems.
At the crash site yesterday, authorities said they have finished collecting human remains.
“[We] will continue looking for bodies, but at the crash site there are no longer any visible remains,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Marc Menichini.
Lieutenant Luc Poussel said all that’s left are “belongings and pieces of metal”.
Officials at France’s national criminal laboratory near Paris say it will take a few months for the painstaking identification process to be complete and for the remains to be returned to the families.
Meanwhile, one of the lead investigator’s into the crash has called for anyone with footage of the disaster to hand it over to the authorities.
French prosecutor Brice Robin said he was not aware of a video, reported by German and French media, showing the last seconds before the crash. German newspaper Bild and French news magazine Paris Match said they had a video which recorded the sound of passengers screaming and the sound of a metal object striking the cockpit door.
Mr Robin said investigators were not yet examining mobile phones found at the crash site, and he was not aware of recovered footage from phones.
The plane went down on 24 March as it travelled from Barcelona to Duesseldorf, killing all 150 people on board. The victims included babies, exchange students, two opera singers and football reporters.
Lufthansa said on Tuesday it had set aside €280 million (£204m) to deal with possible costs resulting from the crash, as French aviation investigators said they were examining “systemic weaknesses” that could have led to the disaster.
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