Last updated: 01:13 PM ET, Thu March 26 2015

Prosecutor: Germanwings Co-Pilot Deliberately Crashed Plane

Impacting Travel | Rich Thomaselli | March 26, 2015

Prosecutor: Germanwings Co-Pilot Deliberately Crashed Plane

PHOTO: Recovery efforts underway at the crash site. (Courtesy of Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses)

In a dramatic and somber press conference earlier this morning, French prosecutor Brice Robin said the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 intentionally and deliberately brought down the plane after locking the captain out of the cockpit.

The stunning conclusion was reached after French officials listened to the audio from the recovered cockpit voice recorder after the Airbus A320, en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, crashed in the French Alps. All 150 on board were killed.

The co-pilot was identified as Andreas Lubitz, who had 630 hours of flight time experience.

“At this moment, in light of investigation, the interpretation we can give at this time is that the co­pilot through voluntary abstention refused to open the door of the cockpit to the commander, and activated the button that commands the loss of altitude,” Robin said.

The New York Times had earlier reported that audio from the cockpit voice recorder revealed one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit. At the time, it was unclear which pilot.

"The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer," a French military official told the Times. “And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer. You can hear he is trying to smash the door down."

The plane descended from 38,000 feet in a controlled descent for about 10 minutes before crashing into the French Alps on Tuesday, killing all 150 on board.

A source close to the investigation gave a similar account to the Agency France Presse (AFP) news agency after listening to the audio from the cockpit voice recorder that was recovered hours after the plane went down. An alarm indicating proximity to the ground can be heard on the audio as well, the source told AFP, just before impact.

We now know it was the captain who left the cockpit, apparently to use the bathroom, who was desperately trying to get back into the flight deck.

The prosecutor said audio revealed no signs of distress by Lubitz, who also did not speak during the 10-minute descent into the side of the mountain. Robin said audio picked up the fact that Lubitz was breathing normally the whole time, which only suggested to him that the co-pilot was conscious and his intention was to deliberately “destroy the aircraft.”

Robin said the audio interaction between the two pilots prior to the time when the captain left the cockpit was “cheerful.”

“There is nothing abnormal happening,” he said.

The captain then asked the co­pilot to take over, and, “At this stage, the co­pilot is in control, alone,” the prosecutor said. “It is when he is alone that the co­pilot manipulates the flight monitoring system to activate the decent of the plane,” something that only could have been done manually, Robin added.

Stefan Schaffrath, an Airbus spokesman, told the New York Times that in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Airbus had upgraded the reinforcements of cockpit doors on its planes in compliance with international regulations.

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