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Germanwings co-pilot locked pilot out, deliberately crashed plane: French official

Prosecutor Brice Robin said the commander left the cockpit, presumably to go to the lavatory, and then was unable to regain access.

By: Associated Press | Paris |
Updated: March 27, 2015 9:21:42 am
germanwings, Airbus A320 plane crash, Airbus A320, This photo provided in Paris, Wednesday, March 25, 2015 by the BEA, the French Air Accident Investigation Agency, shows the voice data recorder of the Germanwings jetliner that crashed Tuesday in the French Alps. French investigators cracked open the badly damaged black box of a German jetliner on Wednesday and sealed off the rugged Alpine crash site where 150 people died when their plane on a flight from Barcelona, Spain to Duesseldorf slammed into a mountain. (AP Photo/Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses)

By: Lori Hinnant & Dave McHugh

Ignoring  the captain’s frantic pounding on the door, the co-pilot of the Germanwings jet barricaded himself inside the cockpit and deliberately rammed the plane full speed into the French Alps as passengers screamed in terror, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

READ: Germanwings: Recordings reveal pilot was locked out of cockpit before crash

In a split second, all 150 people aboard were dead.

Andreas Lubitz’s “intention was to destroy this plane”, Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said, laying out the horrifying conclusions French investigators reached after listening to the final minutes of Tuesday’s Flight 9525 from the plane’s black box voice data recorder.

READ: The latest: Crash victims’ relatives fly to site

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the conclusions brought the tragedy to a “new, simply incomprehensible dimension”.

The prosecutor said there was no indication of terrorism, though he did not say why investigators do not suspect a political motive. The inquiry is instead focusing on the co-pilot’s “personal, family and professional environment’’ to try to determine why he did it, Robin said.

READ: France opens black box, hoping to unlock jet crash mystery

The Airbus A320 was flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf when it lost radio contact with air traffic controllers and began dropping from its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet. The prosecutor said Lubitz did not say a word as he manually set the plane on an eight-minute descent into the craggy French mountainside that pulverised the plane.

He said the German co-pilot’s responses, initially courteous in the first part of the trip, became “curt’’ when the captain began the mid-flight briefing on the planned landing.

Robin said the pilot, who has not been identified, left the cockpit when the plane reached cruising altitude, presumably to go to the lavatory. Then the 27-year-old co-pilot took control of the jet as requested.

READ: Germanwings A320 crash coverage: 142 passengers and six crew feared dead

“When he was alone, the co-pilot manipulated the buttons of the flight monitoring system to initiate the aircraft’s descent,’’ Robin said.

The pilot knocked several times “without response”,’ the prosecutor said, adding that the cockpit door can only be blocked manually from the inside.

The co-pilot said nothing from the moment the captain left, Robin said. “It was absolute silence in the cockpit,’’ he added.

The A320 is designed with safeguards to allow emergency entry into the cockpit if a pilot inside is unresponsive. But the override code known to the crew does not go into effect — and indeed goes into a lockdown — if the person inside the cockpit specifically denies entry.

During the flight’s final minutes, pounding could be heard on the cockpit door as the plane’s instrument alarms sounded. But the co-pilot’s breathing was calm, Robin said.

Just before the plane hit the mountain, passengers’ cries of terror could be heard on the voice recorder.

“The victims realised just at the last moment,’’ Robin said. “We can hear them screaming.’’

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