Prosecutor: Lone co-pilot intentionally crashed Germanwings flight
Paris (dpa) - Left alone in the cockpit of Germanwings flight 4U9525, 28-year-old co-pilot Andreas Lubitz manually began a descent procedure and did not respond when his pilot and crew pounded on the locked door as the airplane slammed into a mountainside in France. Those are the findings announced Thursday by the prosecutor of Marseilles, Brice Robin, who was initially charged with investigating a case of involuntary homicide after the flight carrying 150 people crashed en route to Dusseldorf from Barcelona. The nature of the investigation changed as it became clear that the crash resulted from a series of conscious decisions on the part of Lubitz to bring down the plane. Breathing normally in a way that indicated consciousness, Lubitz did not respond as knocking on the locked cockpit door became more insistent and alarms began to sound as the plane neared the ground. He also remained silent despite multiple attempts from the air traffic controller to elicit information, the prosecutor said in a chilling account of the events leading up to the deadly crash. It was likely that the pilot left to use the toilet when the automatically-locking door closed. Someone inside the cockpit has to push a button for the door to open again. According to the audio file of the plane's 10-minute descent, it seemed most passengers were unaware that something was awry until just before the aircraft's impact, when screams could be heard in the cabin. There is no indication that the crash was a terrorist attack, Robin said, adding that the act seemed suicidal but couldn't be characterized as a suicide when there were so many other victims. Few details were immediately clear about the young man and his motives. Earlier, German authorities confirmed to dpa that he was from Montabaur in Rheinland-Pfalz, near Frankfurt. Lubitz began began working for Germanwings in September 2013, a spokesman for parent company Lufthansa said. He had 630 flying hours under his belt. German authorities conducted a background check on Lubitz and found nothing out of the ordinary, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. De Maiziere said intelligence records, the national police database and Lufthansa's own records were reviewed shortly after the crash, but nothing noteworthy was found. "We checked the rest of the crew and the passengers for signs of terrorism or any other security concerns, and they all came up negative," he said. Lubitz's family and the family of his fellow pilot have travelled to France and have been informed of the prosecutors's findings. The families of victims, many of whom also travelled to the crash site, were also informed. Many of the findings come from a file that was retrieved from one of the plane's two black boxes, which contained a voice recorder. It was recovered at the crash site, where disintegrated debris from the aircraft covers a 4-hectare section of mountain face in a remote area of southern France. Authorities are still looking for the second black box containing a flight data recorder. French President Francois Hollande said a badly damaged casing found on Wednesday did not contain the device. Searchers were facing extreme conditions in the recovery efforts Thursday as they sought clues in the disintegrated debris littered across a high-altitude mountain that is difficult to access by foot. "The work is extremely difficult, the terrain is dangerous, it is steep and slippery," the head of the mountain rescue teams, Olivier Cousin, told dpa. Investigators still hope to find more information on the flight data recorder.