On 24 March 2015, Germanwings Flight 4U9525, en route from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany, crashed near Digne-les-Bains, France, about 100 kilometres northwest of Nice. All 144 passengers and six crew members are assumed dead.
Evidence from investigators’ analysis of the cockpit voice recorder suggests that the aircraft was intentionally crashed by the co-pilot, 28-year old Andreas Lubitz, who at some point during the flight was left alone in the cockpit.
“The co-pilot was alone at the controls,” said Brice Robin, the Marseille prosecutor, of what he called Lubitz’s deliberate desire to destroy the plane. “He … refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot [at which point he] voluntarily began the descent of the plane.”
Believed Action in Pilot's Absence
“[At first the pilot had been] knocking lightly on the [cockpit] door,” Robin told the New York Times. “[He began hitting the door harder but there was] no answer … never an answer. You can hear he [was] trying to smash the door down.”
The cockpit voice recording strongly suggests that Lubitz, who is thought to have been from Montabaur, a town in Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany, “profited from the captain’s absence” when he had left the cockpit to use the facilities. At this point Lubitz locked himself into the cockpit and activated the airplane’s descent button, ignoring the captain’s increasingly frantic attempts to get back in the cockpit.
According to authorities, the aircraft left its assigned cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, descending at a rate of 17.8 metres per second or 3,500 feet per minute. The French aviation authority, Direction générale de l'aviation civile, declared the aircraft in distress after the aircraft lost radio contact. At around 10:30 CET, Flight 9525 reached the French coast at Toulon before beginning its steep descent.
“The aircraft’s contact with French radar [and] French air traffic controllers ended at 10:53 am (9:57 GMT) at an altitude of about 6,000 feet (approximately 1,825 metres),” Germanwings executive Thomas Winkelmann told reporters. “The plane then crashed.”
Opera Stars and Students Lost
Deutsche Oper am Rhein bass-baritone Oleg Bryzhak and German contralto Maria Radner are among those who were on Germanwings Flight 4U9525. Both were on their way back from performances of Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried” at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. A group of 16 students and 2 teachers from the German town of Haltern was also on board, returning from a class trip to Spain. Dalkurd FF football team members were originally booked to be on the flight but changed their booking at the last minute.
The Germanwings crash is the deadliest air disaster in France since the 1981 crash of Inex-Adria Aviopromet Flight 1308 in which 180 people died. The last major plane crash in France involved an Air France Concorde. In that 2000 disaster, all 109 people on board, and four people on the ground, lost their lives.
Investigations into the disaster are ongoing.
Cologne-based Germanwings, a budget-price subsidiary of Lufthansa, has been in operation since 2002.