By Jessica Camille Aguirre and Jean-Baptiste Piggin, dpa (TNS)
PARIS — Lufthansa’s flight training school knew of Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’s problems with depression during his training, the air carrier reported Tuesday.
The company produced a 2009 email Tuesday in which Lubitz explained that he was prepared to resume flight training after a break. In it, he informed the school of a “previous episode of severe depression.”
Lufthansa provided the email along with other documents to prosecutors and said it was cooperating fully with the investigation.
The revelation is likely to raise questions about why the news didn’t raise red flags at Lufthansa, which had insisted last week that Lubitz — who is believed to have intentionally crashed Germanwings flight 4U9525 in the French Alps on March 24 — “was fit for flying without any restrictions.”
“His performance was without criticism. Nothing was striking,” said Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr on Thursday.
Germanwings is the budget subsidiary of Lufthansa.
Data from the recovered black box prompted the Marseille prosecutor, who is leading a criminal investigation, to say that Lubitz locked himself alone in the cockpit and manually changed the plane’s course — intentionally causing its demise.
Speculation has been rife as to what prompted Lubitz to bring the plane down, and German authorities have been reluctant to share information about the young pilot’s personal life.
Prosecutors in the German city of Dusseldorf said Monday that Lubitz had been in treatment with psychiatrists and neurologists, and that a doctor had noted a suicidal tendency in him before he received his pilot’s license. Lubitz began working for Lufthansa in 2013.
Though he possessed notes from a doctor excusing him from work on the day of the crash, prosecutors said they had not found evidence he suffered from a physical illness. A hospital where Lubitz was treated said earlier that reports he was treated for depression were false.
The disclosures triggered debate in Germany about whether doctors should flag mental illness issues to employers. Under confidentiality rules, German sick notes for work do not disclose any diagnosis.
Several politicians have said doctors should routinely warn employers whenever a worker in a high-responsibility job such as a pilot has mental health issues, but the president of the German Chamber of Psychotherapists, Rainer Richter, rejected that.
He told dpa that German law already overrides confidentiality if a therapist learns that a patient intends to harm people.
“Doctors and psychotherapists are already empowered to breach confidentiality if that would avert harm to third parties. In cases where it’s a matter of life and death, that’s not just permission, it’s duty,” he said.
Tuesday’s news came after French aviation officials narrowed their probe, focusing on cockpit rules and psychological screenings, as experts worked to formally identify victims from pieces of human remains recovered at the plane’s crash site.
Aviation authority BEA is attempting to reconstruct the history of the flight from the cockpit black box voice recorder. The contents of a second black box, the flight data recorder, are still being sought amidst the wreckage of the plane, which had been carrying 150 people when it slammed into a mountainside in southern France.
“The safety investigation will be oriented towards the cockpit door locking system logic and cockpit access and exit procedures, as well as the criteria and procedures applied to detect specific psychological profiles,” the BEA said in a statement.
The BEA will submit its findings to French authorities, along with possible recommendations for changes to national flight safety regulations.
Last week’s crash has already reverberated widely, as airlines around the world introduced new rules requiring two people to be present in the cockpit.
Separately, an insurance consortium has set aside $300 million to meet claims connected to the Germanwings crash, a Lufthansa spokesman said.
The sum is to cover compensation claims by the families of the 150, the loss of the Airbus A320 and associated personnel costs, he said.
Patricia Willaert, the head of the prefecture where the crash site is, said at a news conference that there were 2,000 available lodging places for victims’ relatives who wanted to travel to the region.
French authorities in Paris are working to identify the victims, and officials have said they hope to have DNA from every victim by the end of the week. Francois Daoust, the head of the lab in charge of tracing each victim using DNA technology, said the process of formal identification could take up to four months.
Workers finished a road up to the crash site Tuesday, which should make collecting the remains and other evidence easier.
Photo: Jens via Flickr