Germanwings Co-Pilot Set Plane to Go Faster Before Crash

Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz adjusted the controls on Flight 9525 to accelerate the plane’s fatal descent into the French Alps, the data recorder showed.

That recorder, one of two so-called black boxes, was found yesterday among the wreckage and rushed to Paris for study by French air accident investigator BEA. The device stores thousands of parameters about the plane’s systems during the flight. The cockpit voice recorder, the other black box, was found a week ago.

BEA’s review of the second box appears to back up what French prosecutors have been saying since March 25, the day after the crash that killed 150 people: Lubitz intentionally steered the jet into a mountain after locking the captain out of the cockpit. Computer evidence made public yesterday in Germany showed Lubitz researched both suicide and the mechanics of cockpit doors in the days before the flight.

“An initial reading indicates that the pilot present in the cockpit used automatic pilot to put the plane into a descent toward an altitude of 100 feet, and then several times during the course of the descent, the pilot modified the setting of the automatic pilot to increase the speed of the descent,” BEA said in a statement Friday, adding that work continues to establish the specific facts about the flight.

Mental State

BEA’s statement doesn’t specify which of the two pilots was seated in the cockpit when the descent began. Audio files from the flight deck, however, revealed that the co-pilot put the plane into a descent after the captain stepped out of the cockpit, prosecutor Brice Robin said in Marseille, France, last week. Lubitz refused to let the captain back in, Robin said.

The investigation has centered largely on Lubitz’s mental state. Information gathered after the crash shows that the 27-year-old suffered from a psychosomatic condition and was being treated by neurologists and psychiatrists, according to a person familiar with the investigation. In 2009 he told the flight training school operated by Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the owner of Germanwings, that he had had an episode of severe depression.

Prosecutors in Dusseldorf found a sick note at Lubitz’s home there suggesting he was unfit to fly on the day of the crash.

BEA’s information confirms data released earlier by Flightradar24, a private tracking service, which showed Flight 9525’s autopilot was programmed to 30,000 feet (9,100 meters) as the jet climbed, then reset to 32,000 feet and finally to its 38,000-foot cruising altitude. The data then shows the altitude was set manually to the lowest setting, Mikael Robertsson, Flightradar24’s co-founder, said in a telephone interview.

Setting autopilot for the lowest possible altitude amounted to a death sentence for a plane crossing rugged terrain with an elevation of a mile above sea level.

The data recorder was found by searchers combing the crash site near Seyne-les-Alpes, France, for body parts so that victims can be identified by DNA.

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