On March 24, 2015, tragedy changed the lives of everyone who had a friend or loved one on Germanwings flight 9525 that was en route from Barcelona, Spain to Dusseldorf, Germany. In the initial phase of the investigation and recovery effort, most evidence points to the flight’s Co-pilot thoughtfully and methodically locking the cockpit door when the Captain went to the restroom, and purposely steering the plane into a mountain in the French Alps at 400 miles per hour.
The Co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz was 27 years old. He had a pregnant girlfriend, family, friends and a career. He also had a very dark secret. Investigators have found research on his tablet. Days before the fatal plane crash, Lubitz had gathered information on suicide and the security measures of cockpit doors. His 26 year old girlfriend, Kathrin Goldbach reported that Lubitz told her, “One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.” From a psychological perspective, this statement sheds some light on why he chose this as the course to commit suicide. Being depressed and even suicidal does not explain the choice to kill 149 other people in such a horrific way. But if the motive was to be known, or famous, this action goes well beyond suicide, and may in part explain why.
Black Box Reports
The first black box found at the wreckage site revealed that the Pilot, Captain Patrick Sondenheimer told Lubitz that he had forgotten to use the restroom before the flight. Lubitz reportedly told him to go anytime. So once the airplane reached cruising altitude, the Captain said he was going to the bathroom. Once the Captain left the cockpit, Lubitz locked the door and took control of the aircraft. He disabled the auto-pilot and twice deactivated the speed warning signal. Reportedly, he was also heard breathing heavily, so investigators are fairly certain that he was awake, conscious, and fully aware of what he was doing.
The black box recorder also reveals sounds of the Captain banging on the cockpit door and trying to get in. Furthermore, it has the sounds of passengers screaming. For loved ones, knowing that there were fearful agonizing moments before the plane crashed is extremely upsetting. The European Cockpit Association criticized the early release of what was found on the cockpit data recorder because of the negative impact the information has had on the loved ones of those involved.
A Look at the Psychological Impact
Preliminary research on Andreas Lubitz has revealed that he passed a Physical examination in the summer of 2014. This was his annual pilot certification. However, the examination only tests for physical health, not psychological.
Investigators found out the Lubitz reportedly received injections of anti-psychotics in 2010. His girlfriend knew he was receiving psychiatric help, but reportedly had absolutely no idea of the extent of his psychiatric problems.
In his apartment, investigators reported finding two sick notes in the trash from his physician that forbade him to work from March 16, 2015 until March 29, 2015. There were some reports that he had complained of vision problems, but it was believed to be psychosomatic. The sick notes found mentioned “Severe Subjective Burn out Syndrome” and “Severe Depression”.
From a psychological standpoint, this tragedy alarms people about Depression and the severity of the impact that depression can have. However, it is very important to distinguish between a suicidal person, and someone who takes 149 innocent other people with them. Depression alone does not cause this type of behavior. The important message to get out to the public is that help is available, but people MUST be willing to reach out for it.
Tragedies such as this one are preventable. We will never know why Andreas Lubitz chose this course of action instead of talking with those who loved him and getting help. But 150 people are dead, and the world has suffered one more senseless tragedy. Change in the airline industry will be made, perhaps he was correct about that. But we needn’t be afraid of those suffering with mental illness, we should be afraid for those who do not feel that they can get the help they need, and thus resort to desperate measures.
Kulish, N. (2015, April). Germanwings Pilot Searched Web About Suicide and Cockpit Doors, Officials say (Web log post). Retrieved April 3, 2015, from http://nyti.ms/1FluOPL
Brown, P., Pleitgen, F., Shoichet, C. (2015, April). Germanwings co-pilot reported depression during training (Web log post). Retrieved April 4, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com