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Investigators: Germanwings Co-Pilot Tested Descent On Earlier Flight

By Jessica Camille Aguirre, dpa (TNS)

PARIS — The co-pilot suspected of deliberately downing a Germanwings jet in March tested the controls of the plane during an earlier flight the same morning, French investigators said Wednesday.

On March 24, co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is believed to have crashed flight 4U 9525 into the French Alps killing himself and 149 others on board. The plane was en route to Dusseldorf from Barcelona.

French aviation safety authority BEA said that on an earlier flight, Lubitz conducted seconds-long descent maneuvers.

The report said he brought the plane’s altitude down to 100 feet multiple times over a four-minute period before returning to normal altitude.

During those maneuvers, the captain was absent from the cockpit.

Much of the information in the BEA report, which reveals further details about the flight and Lubitz’s medical history, is based on the black box, consisting of the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder found at the crash site.

Earlier, prosecutors in Germany said that Lubitz searched for suicide methods and cockpit-locking mechanisms on the Internet in the week before he locked himself alone in the cockpit and accelerated the aircraft into the mountainside.

A flight training school for Lufthansa, Germanwings’ parent company, also said earlier that it was aware Lubitz struggled with depression.

Wednesday’s BEA report showed that Lubitz was twice refused a medical certificate re-validation in April 2009 by Lufthansa aeromedical center because of depression and the medication he was taking for it.

When he was issued a new certificate in July 2009, it had a note specifying that it was with the limitation stating regular medical examinations. The limitation also requires the medical examiner to contact the license issuer before conducting an evaluation for a medical certificate renewal.

Lubitz’s most recent medical certificate was issued in July 2014 and was valid until August 2015.

“We are in a situation where the medical problem was known, was investigated, and a decision was made,” French civil aviation authority director Remi Jouty said while explaining the findings.

Lubitz had struggled with depression and had a doctor’s note for the day he allegedly downed the plane, but he had hidden the note and been cleared for flying by Germanwings parent company Lufthansa.

The case has raised questions in Germany about privacy practices after Germanwings and Lufthansa said they were not aware of Lubitz’s doctor’s note.

The BEA report said it was considering “how and why pilots can be in the cockpit with the intention of causing the loss of the aircraft and its occupants, despite the existence of regulations setting mandatory medical criteria for flight crews, especially in the areas of psychiatry, psychology, and behavioral problems.”

It also said it was considering the effect of regulations imposed after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, on cockpit safety procedures.

BEA investigators reiterated prosecutors’ findings that the flight’s captain tried to re-enter the cockpit several times as the plane descended.

Lubitz also did not respond to multiple calls from air traffic controllers and the French Air Defence system, the BEA report said. Starting approximately two minutes before impact, investigators said, “noises similar to violent blows on the cockpit door were recorded on five occasions.”

Photo: Fanden selv via Flickr

Germanwings Co-Pilot Accelerated Plane Before Crash, Officials Say

By Jessica Camille Aguirre, dpa (TNS)

PARIS — The second black box recovered from the wreckage of Germanwings flight 4U9525 shows that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz accelerated the aircraft as it descended into the Alps, French aviation officials said on Friday.

French aviation authority BEA also said that the flight data recorder confirms that Lubitz changed the autopilot to lower the plane to an altitude of 100 feet, a figure that experts have speculated was likely the lowest that it could have been set at.

The changes, which caused the Airbus A320’s demise and killed all 150 people on board, are the subject of a raft of investigations into the culpability of Lubitz. The BEA findings add to evidence that he destroyed the plane on purpose, although investigators in Germany and France have still not identified a clear motive.

According to audio recordings from the first black box, Lubitz locked the cockpit door, preventing the return of the plane’s main pilot, and was alone while changing the flight controls.

German prosecutors have revealed that Lubitz searched for suicide methods and cockpit locking mechanisms online during the week prior to the fatal crash.

In the absence of a suicide note or claim of responsibility, prosecutors have focused on Lubitz’s psychological history to try to understand what could have prompted the 27-year-old to steer the aircraft into the ground as it flew from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany, on March 24.

A string of revelations have come to light, including that Lubitz had temporarily suspended pilot training in 2009 due to severe depression and had informed Lufthansa, Germanwings’ parent company, of his mental state.

Two days after the crash, Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr had said Lubitz had passed all his medical tests, and that he “was fit for flying without any restrictions.”

Lubitz had also passed medical and psychological evaluations to obtain a student pilot certificate from the US Federal Aviation Authority in 2010.

But a note on his medical file showed that Lubitz had suffered from suicidal tendencies before receiving his pilot’s license, German prosecutors said, and he had regular appointments with doctors despite having no diagnosis of a physical illness.

In the wake of the crash, authorities are scrambling to find out whether there are fundamental flaws in the system that allowed a man with an apparent death wish to sit at the controls of an airliner, and airlines around the world have independently brought in a two-person cockpit rule.

Safety investigators in France and a panel of German officials are conducting separate reviews of aviation safety procedures, including cockpit-locking mechanisms and psychological screening for pilots.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, international standards were put in place requiring reinforced cockpit doors that must be locked during the flight.

If a pilot is incapacitated, there is a way for a cabin crew member to open a locked door, but Lubitz is thought to have overridden this system and manually blocked re-entry.

According to the cockpit voice recorder files heard by French prosecutors, the main pilot grew increasingly insistent in attempting to get a response from Lubitz as the plane descended.

(c)2015 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: French prosecutor Brice Robin, center, discusses evidence pointing to deliberate actions by the co-pilot in the crash of a Germanwings jet, killing all 150 people on board, during a press conference on Thursday, March 26, 2015. Robin confirmed that Andreas Lubitz, a 28-year-old German citizen, refused to reopen the cockpit door for the pilot and pressed a button that sent the plane into its fatal descent. (Ruoppolo Guillaume/Maxppp/Zuma Press/TNS)

Germanwings Co-Pilot’s Medical Records Given To Prosecutors

By Jessica Camille Aguirre, dpa (TNS)

BERLIN/PARIS — The German hospital that was treating the Germanwings co-pilot for an undisclosed illness handed his medical records over Monday to prosecutors in the city of Dusseldorf, a clinic spokeswoman said.

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, 27, who is believed to have locked himself into the plane’s cockpit and intentionally slammed the aircraft into a mountainside in southern France, killing himself and 149 others on board last week, is the focus of the investigation.

The teaching hospital at Dusseldorf University refused to say Friday what his illness was, except that it was not depression. Lubitz was at the hospital on three occasions starting February, the last on March 10, for a diagnostic examination.

Prosecutors said the likelihood Lubitz struggled with psychological issues remains a central theory into his possible motive.

After searching his apartment in Dusseldorf, prosecutors said they found torn doctor’s notes giving him sick leave from work on the day of the flight.

Friday’s revelation that Lubitz concealed an illness from the airline, a Lufthansa subsidiary, prompted a call to amend German laws of doctor-patient privacy.

“Pilots should be obliged to consult doctors nominated by their employer,” Dirk Fischer, the ranking Christian Democrat in the German parliament’s transport committee, said in remarks reported by the newspaper Rheinische Post.

“These doctors should be exempted from doctor’s confidentiality in dealings with the employer and the German aviation safety agency.”

Another legislator for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, Thomas Jarzombek, called for an expert inquiry into wider reporting of medical diagnoses for people in positions of extreme responsibility.

An assistance center for families of Germanwings flight 4U9525 victims established near the crash site would be open for “as long as necessary,” Germanwings CEO Oliver Wagner told local broadcaster France 3 Provence-Alpes.

Crews continued construction on a road that would ease access to the mountainside crash site Monday, as they searched for the contents of a second black box that could give investigators clues into the flight’s last moments.

They were also piecing together DNA evidence of hundreds of humans remains to identify victims, but Marseilles prosecutor Brice Robin told dpa that the DNA of the co-pilot had not yet been identified.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss announced new aviation rules mandating that planes have two crew members present in cockpits at all times under new aviation rules announced Monday.

Truss said the rules apply to aircraft with seating capacity for 50 or more passengers, operated by domestic and international airlines, and will come into effect immediately.

Two Australians were among the victims of the Germanwings crash.

In the wake of the tragedy, airlines worldwide have moved swiftly to implement new rules requiring two crew members in the cockpit at all times.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Michael Frank Franz via Flickr

Damaged Black Box Sent For Analysis In Alps Plane Crash

By Jessica Camille Aguirre, dpa (TNS)

SEYNE-LES-ALPES, France — A severely damaged cockpit voice recorder is one of the only leads in the fatal crash of Germanwings flight 4U 9525 in the French Alps, where some 650 searchers started combing a section of mountain face at daybreak on Wednesday.

The black box records sounds in the cockpit and could reveal information about the plane’s last moments. Another black box — the flight data recorder, which records the aircraft’s parameters — has not yet been recovered.

“If there are voices, it will be assessed rapidly,” French Transport Secretary Alain Vidal told broadcaster Europe 1, adding that the first black box had been turned over to the French aviation authority, BEA, in Paris.

“If there are other sounds to be analyzed, if could take weeks — but could also give us an explanation,” he added.

Germanwings flight 4U 9525, carrying 144 passengers and six crew members from Barcelona, Spain to Dusseldorf, Germany, crashed in apparent good weather near the town of Prads-Haute-Bleone after making a rapid eight-minute descent.

The jet’s wreckage was strewn across steep terrain at an altitude of 6,500 feet, in a remote region that proved difficult for searchers to access. Overnight snow in the region complicated Wednesday morning’s efforts.

“We are here in the mountains,” Police Chief David Galtier told reporters. “So we have to proceed with extreme caution. The most important thing is to secure the area and cover the bodies.”

The strength of the impact rendered much of the remnants unrecognizable. Another investigator told local media that, “the largest body parts we have located are not very large.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy were due at the site later Wednesday.

Local authorities have set up sites to receive relatives of victims, as well as emergency medical and psychological care facilities.

Officials said initial counts indicated that there were at least 67 German citizens and 45 Spaniards on board.

Two opera singers who were returning from a performance in Barcelona, two babies and a group of 16 high school students who had gone to the Spanish city for an exchange program were all among the passengers. The Australian government confirmed that an Australian woman and her son were also on board.

Japanese government officials said they were trying to confirm whether two Japanese nationals listed as passengers were indeed aboard the aircraft, and the British government said it was “likely” that Britons were on the flight.

Germanwings parent Lufthansa announced held a minute of silence exactly 24 hours after the plane’s contact with French air traffic control broke off.

Lufthansa cancelled one Germanwings flight on Wednesday morning, after cancelling 24 flights the day before.

In Brussels, flags were flown at half mast in front of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive. The bloc’s parliament was due later Wednesday to begin its plenary session with a minute of silence to remember the victims.

(c)2015 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Rescue helicopters and a rescue team from the French Securite Civile fly over the French Alps during a rescue operation after the crash of an Airbus A320 near Seyne-les-Alpes, France, on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (Julien Tack/Abaca Press/TNS)

French Crews To Resume Efforts At Dawn To Reach Germanwings Wreckage

By Jessica Camille Aguirre, dpa (TNS)

PARIS — Search crews planned to resume helicopter flights around dawn Wednesday to remote mountainside in southern France where a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed after a rapid descent, likely killing all 150 people aboard.

The crash, one of the deadliest aviation disasters in German history, occurred in apparent good weather Tuesday near the town of Prads-Haute-Bleone, in the French Alps.

Authorities said it was considered an accident, and German security officials told dpa there was no evidence of terrorism.

There were 144 passengers and six crew members on Flight 4U 9525, which was travelling from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany.

Germanwings is the budget carrier owned by Lufthansa.

After a helicopter tour before nightfall, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the crash site a “picture of horror.”

Police hoped to resume helicopter missions by 6 a.m. to shuttle crews to the inaccessible valley where jet’s wreckage was strewn across steep terrain. Another team of about 65 rescue workers were climbing to the site on foot.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that the remote location and subsequent rain were slowing rescue workers, who might need days to recover victims’ remains.

The 24-year-old Airbus had experienced a technical problem with its nose landing-gear door on Monday morning, a Lufthansa spokeswoman confirmed. The problem involved a hatch that opens and closes when the nose landing gear is deployed and was solved through a routine repair, the spokeswoman told dpa.

Lufthansa Chairman Carsten Spohr called Tuesday a “dark day” in a tweet: “My deepest sympathy goes to the families and friends of our passengers and crew.” He said the aircraft was in “excellent” condition.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a flight recorder had been recovered from the site and was handed over to investigators for analysis. Some 380 firefighters, 300 soldiers, 12 helicopters and a military plane have been deployed in the recovery efforts.

French President Francois Hollande called German Chancellor Angela Merkel to express condolences, and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he also spoke with Merkel. The three leaders were due to travel Wednesday to the crash site.

Three days of mourning started Wednesday in Spain.

“I lament, as we all do, this sad and dramatic accident,” Rajoy told journalists.

Images from the site showed obliterated aircraft wreckage strewn along a mountain face at an altitude of 6,500 feet.

“There are bits of debris, nothing more than tiny pieces,” mountain guide Jean-Louis Bietrix, who accompanied searchers, told broadcaster BFM-TV. “The plane disappeared completely.”

Officials said initial counts indicated that there were at least 67 German citizens and 45 Spaniards on board, as well as one Belgian.

Among those on the plane were 16 students and two teachers from the Joseph Koenig High School in the western German city of Haltern. The students, ages 15 and 16, had been on a one-week exchange program to Barcelona.

Opera singer Oleg Bryjak, 54, was a passenger, the Dusseldorf opera said. He was returning to Germany after performing the bass baritone role in Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried” in Barcelona.

The Danish Foreign Ministry said one Dane was on the plane.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed that a woman and her adult son from Victoria state were on the flight.

In Israel, there were media reports that a 39-year-old Israeli businessman was aboard.

Flight 4U 9525 was scheduled to depart Barcelona’s El Prat airport at 9:35 a.m. but was delayed until 10:01 a.m. It was scheduled to land in Dusseldorf at 11:55 a.m.

Germanwings Chief Executive Thomas Winkelmann said the aircraft reached its regular cruising altitude of about 39,000 feet at 10:45 a.m. but after one minute it left that height. He said the plane went into a steep eight-minute descent before hitting the ground.

French air traffic controllers lost contact with the airliner at 10:53 a.m. at an altitude of about 5,900 feet.

The French civil aviation authority said the crew had not sent out a distress call. Instead, an air controller sent one after losing contact with the aircraft.

(c)2015 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Rescue helicopters and a rescue team from the French Securite Civile fly over the French Alps during a rescue operation after the crash of an Airbus A320 near Seyne-les-Alpes, France, on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (Julien Tack/Abaca Press/TNS)

Germanwings Plane Crashes In French Alps; No Survivors

By Jessica Camille Aguirre (dpa) (TNS)

PARIS — All 150 people on board the Germanwings flight travelling from Barcelona to Dusseldorf that crashed Tuesday over the French Alps are dead, French officials said.

The airline said the cause of the crash, which occurred about midway through the flight, was unknown. German security officials told dpa there was no initial evidence of terrorism.

There were 144 passengers and six crew members on board flight 9525, Germanwings said in a statement.

French Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said no one on board the Airbus A320 survived.

“There was a distress call recorded at 10:47 am (0947 GMT),” Vidalies said. “This signal showed that the aircraft was at 5,000 feet, which is an abnormal situation.”

The aircraft went down near the town of Digne les Bains, in the south of France, about 80 miles northeast of Marseille. Debris from the plane was found at an altitude of 6,500 feet, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said.

Emergency crews were expected to take longer than usual to reach the site, due to the remoteness of the area. The mayor of Barcelonnette, near the crash site, told broadcaster France24 that the area is uninhabited.

The flight was carrying German, Spanish and likely Turkish citizens, French President Francois Hollande said.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said that 45 people on the passenger list had Spanish surnames.

Hollande called German Chancellor Angela Merkel to express his condolences, and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he also spoke with Merkel.

“I lament, as we all do, this sad and dramatic accident,” Rajoy said during a press conference, where he declined to give details on the flight. He said that Spanish equipment minister Ana Pastor Julian was en route to the site.

A spokesman for Merkel said she was deeply shocked, and that she had cancelled her appointments. German air accident investigators are on their way to the crash site.

“We do not yet know what has happened to flight 4U 9525. My deepest sympathy goes to the families and friends of our passengers and crew,” Lufthansa chairman Carsten Spohr said on Twitter, calling it a “dark day.”

A spokeswoman for Airbus said the company was also monitoring news reports but could not immediately confirm the crash.

Flight data compiled by monitoring site Flightradar24 showed flight 4U9525 reaching an altitude of 38,000 feet before descending.

(c)2015 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

10,000 Troops To Be Deployed In France Following Terrorist Attacks

By Jessica Camille Aguirre, dpa (TNS)

PARIS — Some 10,000 military troops will be deployed to “sensitive points” across France following a three-day killing spree last week that left 17 dead in Paris and shocked the nation, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

“The president asked the armed forces to participate in securing sensitive points in the country,” Le Drian said after a cabinet-level national security meeting at the Elysee Palace, adding that it was the largest military deployment to ever take place on French territory.

Interior Minister Bernar Cazeneuve told French media that 4,700 police forces would be deployed to 717 Jewish schools and places of worship, after one of the attacks targeted a kosher supermarket.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the supermarket, Hyper Cacher, to pay tribute to the four victims of the attack: Joav Hattab, 21, Johan Cohen, 22, Philippe Braham, 45, and Francois-Michel Saada, 60.

Netanyahu was in Paris to take part in massive demonstrations Sunday that drew nearly 4 million people across France to commemorate the victims and display solidarity against religious extremism.

Three men were killed by police Friday in two separate raids that ended days of terror in France. One operation targeted two brothers believed to be responsible for the shooting at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine that killed 12 people.

In the other raid, police stormed Jewish market Hyper Cacher, which was under siege by a man believed to have earlier shot dead a policewoman.

A woman named Sophie, who said she was one of those taken hostage in the store on Friday, told broadcaster Europe 1 that gunman Amedy Coulibaly shot one of the victims in the back when he tried to leave, and killed another after he took one of Coulibaly’s guns.

Coulibaly’s alleged accomplice, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, was not in France when the attacks occurred, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevluet Cavusoglu told the Anadolu news agency Monday.

Cavusoglu said she flew from Madrid to Istanbul on Jan. 2, and said phone data indicated that she left for Syria one day after the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French broadcaster BFMTV that there would likely be a parliamentary inquiry into how the attacks occurred.

In a televised interview, Valls said that investigators are continuing to untangle how the attacks were planned and whether they were supported by a broader network.

Advocating for the isolation of radical Islamists in prison, Valls also said it was important to avoid legislative overeach. “Beware of all exceptional procedures, even after violence that is exceptional in its barbarism and requires an exceptional response,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday he would travel to Paris on Thursday for talks on combating violent extremists.

Photo: Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel participate in the march against terrorism in Paris on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. (Panoramic/Zuma Press/TNS)