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Co-pilot was ‘very happy’ with Germanwings job

Angela Charlton
Associated Press

Paris – — Passengers with moments to live screamed in terror and the pilot frantically pounded on the locked cockpit door as a 27-year-old German co-pilot deliberately and wordlessly smashed an Airbus carrying 150 people into an Alpine mountainside.

The account Thursday of the final moments of Germanwings Flight 9525 prompted some airlines to immediately impose stricter cockpit rules — and raised haunting questions about the motive of the co-pilot, whose breathing never wavered as he destroyed the plane and the lives of those aboard.

“We have no idea of the reason,” Marseille Prosecutor Brice Robin said, revealing the chilling conclusions investigators reached after reconstructing the final minutes of the flight from the plane’s black box voice recorder. Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’s intention was “to destroy this plane.”

French, German and U.S. officials said there was no indication of terrorism.

The prosecutor did not elaborate on why investigators do not suspect a political motive; instead they’re focusing on the co-pilot’s “personal, family and professional environment” to try to determine why he did it.

The prosecutor’s account prompted quick moves toward stricter cockpit rules — and calls for more.

Airlines in Europe are not required to have two people in the cockpit at all times, unlike the standard U.S. operating procedure, which was changed after the 9/11 attacks to require a flight attendant to take the spot of a briefly departing pilot.

Canada and Germany’s biggest airlines, including Lufthansa and Air Berlin, as well as low-cost European carriers easyJet and Norwegian Air Shuttle announced new rules requiring two crew members to always be present.

Lubitz never appeared anything but thrilled to have landed a pilot’s job with Germanwings, according to those who helped him learn to fly as a teenager in this town in the forested hills of western Germany.

Members of his hometown flight club in Montabaur, where he renewed his glider license last fall, told the Associated Press that Lubitz appeared to be happy with the job he had at the airline, a low-cost carrier in the Lufthansa Group.

After starting as a co-pilot with Germanwings in September 2013, Lubitz was upbeat when he returned to the LSC Westerwald e.V glider club to update his glider pilots’ license with about 20 takeoffs.

“He was happy he had the job with Germanwings and he was doing well,” said longtime club member Peter Ruecker, who watched Lubitz learn to fly. “He gave off a good feeling.”

Club chairman Klaus Radke said he rejects the Marseille prosecutors’ conclusion that Lubitz deliberately put the Germanwings flight into a descent and dove it straight into the French Alps.

“I don’t see how anyone can draw such conclusions before the investigation is completed,” he told the AP.

At the house of Lubitz’s parents, the curtains were drawn and four police cars were parked outside. People could be seen emerging with blue bags, a big cardboard box and what looked like a large computer.

Lubitz passed all checks

After obtaining his glider pilot’s license as a teenager, Lubitz was accepted as a Lufthansa trainee after finishing the tough German preparatory school at the town’s high school.

According to Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr, Lubitz trained in Bremen, Germany and in Phoenix, Arizona, starting in 2008.

He said there was a “several-month” gap in his training six years ago but he couldn’t say what the reason was for that.

After the break, Lubitz “not only passed all medical tests but also his flight training, all flying tests and checks,” Spohr told reporters, saying the co-pilot was “100 percent fit to fly, without any limitations.”

After completing his training, Lubitz spent an 11-month waiting period working as a flight attendant before becoming a co-pilot on the Germanwings A320 fleet. Spohr said such a waiting period is not unusual at Lufthansa.

Lubitz’s family could not be reached, but a Facebook page bearing Lubitz’s name showed him as a smiling in a dark brown jacket posing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. .

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said German authorities had checked intelligence and police databases on the day of the crash and Lufthansa told them that regular security checks also turned up nothing untoward about the co-pilot.

Change in demeanor

The Airbus A320 that crashed was flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf on Tuesday when it lost radio contact with air traffic controllers and began plunging from its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, before slamming into the mountainside eight minutes later.

The prosecutor laid out in horrifying detail the final sounds heard in the cockpit extracted from the mangled voice recorder.

Lubitz, courteous in the first part of the trip, became “curt” when the captain began the mid-flight briefing on the planned landing, Robin said.

The pilot, who has not been identified, left the cockpit for an apparent bathroom break, and Lubitz took control of the jet.

He suddenly started a manual descent, and the pilot started knocking on the door.

There was no response. “It was absolute silence in the cockpit,” the prosecutor said — except for the steady breathing he said indicated Lubitz was not panicked, and acted in a calm, deliberate manner.

The A320 is designed with safeguards to allow emergency entry into the cockpit if a pilot inside is unresponsive.

But the override code known to the crew does not go into effect if the person inside the cockpit specifically denies entry.

Instrument alarms went off, but no distress call ever went out from the cockpit.

Just before the plane hit the mountain, passengers’ cries of terror could be heard.

“The victims realized just at the last moment,” Robin said. “We can hear them screaming.”