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Germanwings crash parents: 'We're being made to prove our grief'

On March 24, 2015 the Germanwings disaster sent shockwaves through Germany. Two years on, victims' families face legal hoops, which are worsening the grieving process, one victim's father tells DW.

Wolfgang Becker and his wife (their names have been changed) will spend the second anniversary of the Germanwings disaster in Le Vernet, in the French Alps. There they will be close to where their son Andre died on 24 March 2015, when Flight 4U9525 came down at 10.41am. On board were 150 people on their way from Barcelona to Düsseldorf. French investigators and German authorities believe co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally crashed the plane. 149 people from 21 countries died with him.

Deutsche Welle: How are you?

How am I? Our son Andre and 148 others were murdered. They were taken to their deaths by a pilot who committed suicide. You can't shake off these circumstances even after two years. You have to just try and find strength again.

When it happened, we fell into a huge hole - simply functioning, we had no peace of mind. Nobody knew at first: why did this happen? We said, no-one can blame the pilots, they wanted to come home too. Later it came out that the co-pilot intentionally directed the plane into the mountain.

We were at rock bottom, then we fell into a bottomless pit. What hurts so much is that a person with responsibility over others abused those he was in charge of. They didn't have the proper processes in place that could otherwise have determined that this person was not in the right frame of mind to control an aircraft. This is absolutely disastrous and will remain with us for the rest of our lives.

How did you hear about the crash?

My daughter heard about it on TV. My wife asked me to come home. In the late afternoon, pastoral care rang the doorbell. That was when the world stopped turning. From then on, nothing was at it was before. The decision of one person ripped apart the lives of our son, the others with him and their relatives. It's like a flash flood that tears away a bridge you wanted to cross. You have to hope that you find a new way.Andre is not coming back, we know that, but so many things haven't been resolved. The Lubitz family is giving a press conference. Are they going to perhaps claim that their son wasn't in the cockpit after all? It's a slap in the face, an affront to the relatives and the passengers who lost their lives.
Read: Germanwings co-pilot's father to challenge official findings on crash

Did you get closure in January when prosecutors said that only co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was to blame?

No. As relatives, we want that Lufthansa (Germanwings' parent company) says clearly: here is the weak link in the chain, we neglected to remove the co-pilot from the system at an early stage. Do not say that it's only Andreas Lubitz, and everyone else can wash their hands of blame. Everyone makes mistakes, but it's important to admit one's mistakes.

We are assessed as relatives, we have to regularly prove our grief through assessments - only then do I receive compensation. I was in rehabilitation, and that helped, but my inner pain has not gone. You have to fight not to fix it with alcohol, to not get too depressed, so you can go to work again. You can't say that one person grieves 80 percent, the other 25 percent and another 36 percent. We all have the same fate - we have experienced the disaster of our lives.

Überführung von Opfern des Germanwings-Absturzes nach Düsseldorf (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Hitij)

A special Lufthansa flight brought the victims' remains back to Germany in June 2015

No-one can bring our child back, but this legal dispute has to end. Spain has another aviation law, whereby relatives receive a larger blanket sum, without needing to provide evidence. In Germany, victims are valued at 10,000 euros ($10,800). You get that much in the USA if you have a diesel car tainted with cheating software. Do they want to compare a murdered relative to that? It's disgraceful.

It's not about money to us, it's about showing appreciation. Our fate, our grief cannot be valued monetarily. It's about cushioning the blow for those who can't work anymore or who have had to close their business. We were both off sick for so long that my wife cannot return to her profession. I had to make it somehow, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to pay the bills.

With all these different nationalities in the plane and countries affected, you can't just cover the Spanish and shrug off the Germans. There are additional damages. As relatives we want this all to end at some stage, so that we can have some peace and devote ourselves to grieving.

You'll be spending the anniversary again in France. How important is that?

We are best off there, we'll be with others in the same position - we know some people through the emergency pastoral care. We can compare notes and stand together. The days before hand are worse – we have to gather our strength – and the days afterwards, too. When we get home on Saturday, we will need about four days until we're somewhat back on track.

Le Vernet is a beautiful and tranquil place, away from all the hustle and bustle. This place does not deserve what happened there. My wife and I feel at peace there. We can feel closer to our son. There is a beautifully-designed prayer room and memorial stone at the cemetery. We travel there twice a year. If it's just the both of us there, or as a family, then we find it even more reflective.

Because at home, many can't comprehend the grief?

Exactly. For very many people around us at home, it' s been two years, so we shouldn't keep dramatizing it or being a wet blanket. But for us it's not that far in the past. It's only with other relatives or in support groups that you can feel free to speak or shed tears. But we can't do that anymore outside of this environment. Even at work, there's no more consideration.

It's been two years, but we're still in a vacuum, because we can't draw a line under this to devote ourselves to grieving. We're eating breakfast and hear on the radio, that the Lubitz family is giving a press conference. I go to the bakery and read about it in the newspaper.

Our quality of life will never be the same as it was. Our children have been robbed of their futures. Everything that was fun before now has had a shadow cast over it.

What did you like to do with your son?

We were both really into football - both playing ourselves and also watching the Bundesliga and Champions League. I can't watch it anymore. We miss him at breakfast, at dinner, and also the loud music he used to play.

Have you all been to psychotherapy?

Yes. It really takes it out of you. We try to recharge our batteries through rehabilitation, pastoral care and we attend a group of parents who've lost their children. We have maybe 20 to 30 years left. We have to structure them well, that's what our son would have wanted. We're trying to carry on his memory. I have had his name tattooed on me, that's really helped.

Interview conducted by Andrea Grunau

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