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Germanwings crash: Victims' relatives demand answers

Seventy relatives of victims of the 2015 plane crash say they disagree with the official finding that all the circumstances have been clarified. Why, they ask, couldn't Andreas L.'s suicidal flight have been prevented?

"They act as if everything's settled now, but it isn't," says Frank Noack. Noack, from the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, lost his daughter on March 24, 2015, when the Germanwings Airbus flight number 9525 crashed in the French Alps. Noack has initiated a petition, along with other relatives of the 150 victims of the crash. Speaking to DW by phone, the pain is still audible in his voice. "It's been a difficult week," he says of his decision to turn to the public once again. "I ask myself whether everything really was above board in the way they investigated the disaster." He and others still have unanswered questions, he says, and they suspect that a reappraisal of what happened is being suppressed.

Frank Noack (privat)

Noack lost his daughter in the crash

More than 70 relatives have signed the petition. One of the inconsistencies that plague them, he says, is the question of why the mentally ill co-pilot was allowed to fly at all. Why wasn't Andreas L., who flew the plane at top speed into a mountain, stopped by the doctors? Wasn't the doctor who treated him a friend of the family and perhaps supposed to conceal the pilot's psychological illness? After all, pilot training costs 80,000 euros ($94,500), says Noack; you'd certainly think twice about jeopardizing an investment like that. And why was Andreas L. once signed off as unfit to fly, then declared fit to fly again within 24 hours?

Relatives seeking point of contact

This is all conjecture, says Noack - but many things indicate a "failure in the system." Who should they talk to about it, though? The official investigation by the Düsseldorf public prosecution department was closed at the beginning of this year. The reason given: The co-pilot was solely responsible for the crash. There was therefore no reason to launch any criminal investigation "into a living person." "Why is it that in this case the investigation ends with the death of the perpetrator, and why are the circumstances not being clarified and made public?" the petition asks.

Andres L., the copilot who flew the plane into a mountain (picture-alliance/dpa/Foto-Team-Müller)

Andreas L.: Should he have been allowed to fly?

Noack says they keep being told that there's currently no specific person dealing with the case. It's true that Hannelore Kraft, the former premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, was always prepared to listen to them, and demonstrated her sympathy. But the SPD politician has since been voted out.

There has been a political response to the crash: The Air Traffic Act now requires pilots to undergo stricter alcohol and drug tests, and the aero-medical database will now save not just anonymized, but also person-related data. Shortly after the crash, German airlines also introduced a two-person rule for the cockpit. This, however, has since been repealed - they say it doesn't increase onboard safety. Noack can understand this, because there are insufficient personnel on board. "All hogwash and window dressing," he says.

Another public appeal

Half of the victims were German. The others came from more than a dozen other countries. Noack reports that many people are therefore asking the same questions abroad, and offering their support. He specifically mentions Iran. The crash is still a topic of public discussion there, because a famous Iranian sports journalist was among those who died. Generally speaking, there's a good network of victims' relatives, Noack says, especially among the German families, many of whom live in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Eventually, though, they reached the point of wanting to make another public appeal.

Commemoration ceremony two years after the crash in Haltern (picture-alliance/dpa /I. Fassbender)

More than two years after the crash, relatives and friends of the victims still feel immeasurable grief

They hope that a widely distributed petition will help them shake off the sense of having been abandoned. Since the beginning of August, they've been trying to drum up support via the internet platform change.org. Noack reports that they also sent their petition by post to the petitions committee of the German Bundestag at the end of July, as well as to the Justice Ministry in North Rhine-Westphalia, and the premier of Saxony-Anhalt, Reiner Haseloff, who once promised Noack help and support at a public event. So far, Noack has not received so much as confirmation of receipt from the Bundestag.

Exceptions to medical confidentiality

It's not easy to get the subject of the Germanwings crash back on the agenda again after such a long time. Only 7,000 supporters have registered on change.org (in German). Noack is disappointed, but he has an explanation. A petition to ban horse-drawn carriages from the streets of Berlin gathered more than 100,000 supporters in just four weeks: That's typical, he says. Everyone wants to be kind to animals. However, Noack suspects that many prefer to wear blinkers when it comes to concrete issues that might call their daily lives into question. People don't like to be reminded of the circumstances that enable them to fly away on holiday so cheaply. The issue of airline safety is a highly pertinent one.

Screenshot Petition Germanwings crash (change.org)

"Germanwings crash. Too many open questions. Fault of one individual?" reads the petition

Above all, Noack demands in the petition, new rules are needed permitting exceptions to be made to doctor-patient confidentiality. In France, there is a neutral authority doctors are allowed to turn to if they believe a third party is in danger. So far, no such higher office exists in Germany; here, one can only inform the usual authorities.

Not on the Bundestag website

The petition is still not to be found on the website of the Bundestag Committee for Petitions. According to Article 17 of the Basic Law, any citizen may hand in a complaint and decide whether or not the petition should be released for public discussion. In any case, the committee is obliged to respond. But when? A request from DW to find out what stage the petition had reached in the administrative processing was answered not by the committee, but by the Bundestag press office. The committee itself, we were told, was not permitted to respond to press enquiries.

Screenshot of the Bundestag Committee of Petitions website

The petition does not yet appear on the government website

Yet so far no concrete information has been forthcoming from the press office, either. It just made a general comment pointing out that the legislative period was coming to an end, and that the "principle of discontinuity" therefore came into effect. That means, at least in the context of legal propositions, that anything that isn't home and dry by September 24, 2017 will end up in the bin. On hearing this, Noack was unsurprised.

Love Parade petition as model

Change.org claims that a petition on its site has better networking potential than a Bundestag petition, particularly on social media. This can create powerful momentum for political demands, explains Sebastian Schulz from the Berlin-based campaigning organization. The best example, he says, was the petition started by the relatives of those who were crushed to death at the Love Parade in Duisburg in 2010. The 350,000 signatures on the online petition helped them to get the investigation into the disaster reopened in the spring of 2017.

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