Mystery Surrounds Germanwings Co-Pilot Who Crashed Plane

Investigators are frantically trying to piece together what led the Germanwings co-pilot to deliberately steer himself and 149 passengers and crew to their deaths in Tuesday’s plane crash in the French Alps.

Authorities aren’t revealing much about Andreas Lubitz other than to say the 28-year-old had no known terrorist links, and that he had passed the airline’s medical and psychological tests. He joined Germanwings, the low-cost carrier operated by Deutsche Lufthansa AG, in September 2013.

“This news affects me just the same as for all others -- something like this goes beyond anything imaginable,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday in Berlin. “We don’t yet know the full background and therefore it’s important that the investigation continues.”

Lubitz, who started his pilot training in 2008, took leave for “several months” at one point, Lufthansa Chief Executive Officer Carsten Spohr said, declining to give additional information, citing medical confidentiality. Pilots are reassessed on a regular basis and Lubitz was deemed fit to fly, Spohr said.

Family friends told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Lubitz had suffered from burnout and depression a few years ago but that he had seemed fine this past Christmas.

Police Thursday searched Lubitz’s apartment in Dusseldorf and the house he grew up in in Montabaur for personal documents that might provide clues as to why he crashed the plane, said the prosecutors’ office in Dusseldorf, which has opened an official investigation.

Residence Surrounded

His reason for deliberately initiating the fateful descent while the captain was locked out of the cockpit isn’t known, Brice Robin, a French prosecutor, said in Marseille.

The house in Montabaur, a town of about 12,500 in the Westerwald region halfway between Frankfurt and Cologne, buzzed with activity Thursday as police surrounded the residence, a helicopter circled overhead and media converged at the home. Dating back to 959, Montabaur is known for its bright-yellow baroque castle and picturesque 16th century half-timbered houses.

Lubitz studied at Lufthansa’s flight instruction school in Bremen, which was founded in 1956 and trains about 200 pilots a year. They complete a major part of their practical training in the Arizona desert at a facility in Goodyear that “offers outstanding flying and weather conditions,” according to Lufthansa’s website. Lubitz, who had also worked as a flight attendant for 11 months, had logged 630 flight hours.

Logging Hours

Lubitz started flying with the LSC Westerwald air club near his hometown in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate when he was a teenager and had been a member since he was 14. He last visited the club at the end of 2014, when he needed to log hours for his sailplane license.

He was a “totally normal person, nothing out of the ordinary,” said Klaus Radke, the club’s chairman. Montabaur is a “close-knit community. Everyone knows everyone.”

Lubitz, as well as crew and passengers, were checked for terrorist backgrounds “and all of them came up negative,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Thursday. Lufthansa told German authorities that its regular security checks also were negative, he said.

“So there are no indications of any kind of a terrorist background,” De Maiziere told reporters in Berlin. “That said, everything will be fully investigated.”

Iris Rasenberger, who returned on Germanwings Thursday to the Cologne/Bonn airport from a week-long trip to Naples, Italy, said the incident makes a person think twice when sitting on a plane.

“Everyone on board was gloomy, including the crew,” the 68-year-old said. “I have to fly a lot and I always have a strange feeling, but it was worse now. There was turbulence and you ask yourself: Is everything alright?”

(A previous version of this story was corrected to fix a passenger’s location in the penultimate paragraph.)

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