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Prosecutors: co-pilot hid illness

March 27, 2015

Prosecutors say it appears that the co-pilot of an ill-fated Germanwings flight was ill. Meanwhile, German airlines have introduced a rule making it mandatory for two crew members to be in the cockpit at all times.

Germanwings / Absturz / Wrackteil
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The prosecutors' office in Düsseldorf said on Friday that searches of Andreas Lubitz' flat in the western German city as well as the home of his parents in the small town of Montabaur in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, had failed to turn up any letter declaring his intention to crash the plane or commit suicide.

"However, documents of a medical nature were seized, which point to an existing illness and medical treatment," a statement released by senior prosecutor Ralf Herrenbrück said. He added that the torn up sick notes, which were valid for the day of the crash, supported "the current preliminary assessment that the deceased hid his illness from his employer and colleagues."

No details about the nature of the apparent illness were given, but the statement said investigators intended to conduct a number of interviews and consult the pilot's medical records as a result of finding the sick notes.

'Deliberately steered' into a mountain

The news comes a day after Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin told a press conference that after evaluating the contents of the Airbus A320's cockpit voice recorder, French investigators had determined that the 27-year-old co-pilot, who was alone in the cockpit at the time of the crash, had deliberately steered the Germanwings plane into the side of a mountain in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

Germanwings-Katastrophe Ermittler durchsuchen Wohnung des Co-Piloten
German investigators searched the co-pilot's homes in Düsseldorf and MontabaurImage: Steinbach/Getty Images

Lubitz had been briefly left alone by the pilot and apparently prevented the captain from returning to the cockpit. This, coupled with a statement by Carsten Spohr, the CEO of Lufthansa, Germanwings' parent company, in which he mentioned an interruption in the co-pilot's aviation training, have led to widespread media speculation about the state of Lubitz' mental health.

Two-person cockpit rule

The news that Lubitz was alone and prevented the captain from re-entering the cockpit, has led Germany's BDL avaiation federation and the country's airlines to introduce a new rule making it mandatory for two crew members to be in the cockpit at all times. This would require a member of cabin crew staff to enter the cockpit whenever one of the pilots leaves. He or she would be required to remain their until the pilot has returned.

The BDL announced the move in a statement post on its website on Friday, saying the decision had been taken following consultations with the German airlines and the Federal Ministry of Transportation.

Recovery efforts continue

Meanwhile, French investigators and other workers have been continuing recovery operations at the site of the crash, seeking to retrieve the bodies of the deceased and remains of the aircraft, particularly the second black box containing the flight data recorder. They hope it will provide more clues to what caused Tuesday's crash.

While many of the relatives of the victims have travelled to the area where the crash occurred, others remained at home, including many of the families of 16 high school students and two teachers from the small town of Haltern am See who were on the flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, returning from a week-long exchange in Spain.

Mourning in Haltern

On Friday, German President Joachim Gauck and the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Hannelore Kraft traveled to Haltern to take part in a memorial service for the deceased students and teachers.

Gauck said that it was at such times of tragedy that one is reminded that "we live in a society of people and not just functioning beings."

pfd/sms (Reuters, AP, dpa)