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March 29, 2015
by Cindy Ariel,Phd

Suicide, Mass Murder, and Mental Illness on Germanwings Flight 4U9525

March 29, 2015 18:01 by Cindy Ariel,Phd  [About the Author]

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was alone in the cockpit for 10 minutes. When the voice box was recovered, his quiet steady breathing could be heard, along with increasingly aggressive banging on the door. Transponder data shows that the autopilot on Germanwings Flight 4U9525 was reprogrammed in the cockpit to set the plane on a crash course. A search is underway for the plane’s second “black box” which could shed more light on the final minutes but complete details regarding the mental state of the co-pilot who took it down may never be found.

There were 149 other passengers on the Airbus A320 jetliner flying from Barcelona, Spain to Dusseldorf, Germany when the button to initiate a descent into the mountains was activated. Brice Robin, the French prosecutor on the case, drawing from cockpit voice recordings and other flight data concluded that the co-pilot deliberately guided the plane into the French Alps. 

Seeking Answers

Since the crash, investigators around the world, along with families of victims have been seeking answers as to why the co-pilot acted the way he did – committing suicide while taking 149 people with him. Officials noted that Lubitz successfully passed medical and psychological tests for employment (Magnay, Fantz, and Shoichet, 2015). It has also been reported that he had no known ties to terrorism. The energetic co-pilot showed no medical distress on the plane and had effectively completed 630 hours of flight time for the airline since September 2013.

It is not yet known exactly what confluence of factors led to this tragic end for 27 year old Andreas Lubitz and 149 others. His mental health, current and past relationships, family history and other background issues and traits are being widely explored. Many questions may always remain unanswered including whether his apparent ‘decision’ to fly his commercial plane into a mountain was planned or impulsive, guided by blinding rage or by some unknown voices in his head.

Mass Murder-Suicide

While there is some speculation about possible treatment for depression, mass murder-suicide is extremely rare and not typical of someone with depression and/or suicidal thinking. The NIMH reports ( that in 2012, an estimated 16 million or 6.9% of U.S. adults aged 18 or older experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Thoughts of suicide are not uncommon, but most people coping with depression do not kill themselves or even make an attempt. Suicide is considered a potential complication of depressive illness especially in combination with other risk factors such as additional mental health issues and adverse life events. When severe depression does lead to suicide, the person most often ends their own life, without inflicting any physical harm on others.

The number of people who commit suicide and mass murder at the same time is extremely small; about 3% of suicides are murder-suicides. There appear to be several risk factors correlated with acts of mass violence such as paranoid schizophrenia, antisocial personality and drug addiction (Dahl, 2015). Commonalities between those who commit mass-murder suicides also include intense feelings of victimization or oppression. Such feelings tend to provide the murderer with justification for the violence as an expression of rage and despair, sometimes extracting revenge or teaching others a lesson. Sometimes the victims are secondary to the suicide or part of its mask; the shame around committing suicide often influences people to make it look like something else (Dahl, 2015). They also may be so mentally distraught or out of reality that they cannot think beyond to the consequences of their action on others; they are unable to care.  Still others who commit murder on this large a scale are impelled by a yearning for notoriety and recognition. 

Andreas Lubitz Mental Health

Andreas Lubitz sought treatment for a psychological or psychiatric condition that he hid from the airline. Notes were found in his apartment excusing him from work on the day of the crash (Magnay, et al, 2015). The exact nature and severity of his psychological struggles and their treatment is unclear. It is most probable to have been a complicated confluence of factors that triggered the catastrophic event. At this point, investigators can only work backwards, after the event has occurred, to piece together what the co-pilot may have been thinking and the factors that were influencing those thoughts.

Pressure to identify a quick simple answer sometimes leads to false correlations or erroneous conclusions. Rationalization for violence of this significance usually develops over time, amassing evidence and traction from many sources before culminating in a tragic event. The process of uncovering the facts, planning strategies to reduce future risk, and understanding what drives people to act in such horrific ways can be slow. Taking necessary action toward this end helps to reduce fear.  Enhancing understanding and answering as many questions as possible also performs a critical service to society including those struggling with serious mental issues, most of whom would never carry out this magnitude of destruction.


Dahl, M. (March 27, 2015). What we know about people who turn suicide into an act of murder. Retreived from

Magnay, D., Fantz, A., & Shoichet, C.E. (March 27, 2015). Who was Andreas Lubitz, Germanwings co-pilot blamed for crash? Retrieved from

About the Author

Cindy Ariel Cindy Ariel, PhD

Cindy Ariel, Phd has practiced as a psychologist for over 20 years. She received her master's degree from the Graduate School at Hahnemann Medical College and her doctorate from Temple University. Dr. Ariel writes occasionally for several publications and is co-editor of the book, Voices From the Spectrum (2006). She is also author of Loving Someone with Asperger's syndrome: Understanding and Connecting with your Partner, a self-help book for intimate partners of someone on the autism spectrum.

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