Germanwings Crash: BEA Report ‘Raises Further Questions On Psychiatric Testing For Pilots’

Aviation Lawyers Acting For Families Affected React To Latest Information

07.05.2015

Specialist aviation lawyers representing the loved ones of victims killed in the Germanwings crash in the French Alps in March have described the latest information released by investigators as an indication that more should be done to improve the detection and treatment of psychiatric illness among pilots and the importance of airlines ensuring that at least two persons are required to be in the cockpit at all times during flight.
 
After scrutinising data recovered from the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR), the preliminary report published by the French aviation authority BEA has suggested that the plane’s co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who is believed to have deliberately crashed the Airbus A320 on March 24th killing everyone on board, practiced unusual descent altitude selections during a flight in the plane earlier that day.
 
According to the report, on the previous flight from Dusseldorf to Barcelona, while descending from 35,000 feet he repeatedly set the aircraft descent altitude to 100 feet and then corrected its position, while the captain was not present in the cockpit.
 
On the subsequent fatal flight, following the captain leaving the cockpit, the co-pilot changed the selected altitude from 38,000 feet to 100 feet, set the auto-thrust to idle and increased the selected descent speed which eventually reached a setting of 350 knots.  There was no response to air traffic control radio calls nor to requests for the cockpit door to be opened.  The CVR recorded the sound of violent blows to the cockpit door and just over 10 minutes after the descent was started, the aircraft crashed into the Alps.
 
Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Aviation Law team, which has been instructed to represent the families of those killed in the crash, have said the findings put a greater emphasis on how Lubitz was deemed fit to fly and what steps should be taken to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future. The firm is working with aviation lawyers from several other countries. 

Expert Opinion
"The information included in the interim report appears to strengthen suggestions that prior thought had been put into how this aircraft could be put deliberately into a high speed descent.

"As such, this in turn calls into question the current safeguards in place to ensure a pilot is comprehensively fit to fly, both physical and psychologically."
Jim Morris, Partner

The report highlights the co-pilots medical history:

  • In November 2008 he suspended his flying training for medical reasons.
  • On 14 July 2009 his request for renewal of his class 1 medical certificate was refused by Lufthansa due to depression and the taking of medication to treat it.
  • On 28 July 2009 he was given a class 1 medical certificate but it had an endorsement requiring the aeromedical examiner to contact the licence issuing authority before a medical evaluation to renew or extend the medical certificate.  From this point onwards each annual class 1 medical certificate had this endorsement.

Expert Opinion
"The information which has emerged in this preliminary report does place a serious question mark as to whether the current procedures for medical assessments are sufficient to ensure the mental health of pilots. As such, the introduction of more regular expert psychiatric checks should be considered in order to assist in identifying pilots who may be deemed at risk.

"Hopefully the ongoing safety investigation by the BEA on the medical aspects and the balance between medical confidentiality and flight safety will lead to safety recommendations and rule changes that will ensure more stringent and ongoing assessment of pilots psychiatric health to ensure that they are mentally fit to fly airliners.”

"The preliminary report also highlights that EASA issued a safety bulletin on 27 March 2015 recommending that operators implement procedures requiring at least two authorised persons to be in the cockpit at all times. While this recommendation is welcome, it is to be hoped that the BEA's investigation and final report will lead to rule changes on the cockpit door locking systems, cockpit access and entry procedures and a minimum of two authorised persons in the cockpit at all times.

"We remain focused on continuing our own investigations into the tragedy in order to ensure that those who have instructed us are able to secure the financial and emotional support they continue to require as they try to come to terms with the events of March 24th."
Jim Morris, Partner

Dr Stefan Dangel, partner in Dolce Lauda, a leading law firm in Frankfurt, who is working together with Irwin Mitchell to assist the families of those killed in the crash added: “The latest revelations about the actions of Andreas Lubitz on the previous flight of this aircraft are truly shocking.

“We welcome the BEA’s publication of this preliminary report and hope that their final report, together with suitable recommendations for safety improvements, will be published as soon as possible.”