Germanwings Pilot Treated for ‘Suicidal Tendencies’

More background information on Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who crashed his plane into the Alps after locking his captain out of the cockpit and killed 150 people, has trickled out over the weekend. Investigation of his medical history has uncovered vision problems that might have made him anxious about the impending termination of his flight career–an even-more stressful development because he reportedly had a baby on the way.

Friends and fellow flying enthusiasts continue to speak highly of his character and flight skills, with one notable exception. Also, there is news that Lubitz’s previous treatment for emotional problems was considerably more severe than was previously reported.

Many of the newsworthy quotes about Lubitz’ excellent character come from the private flight club that taught him how to fly. The club has begun receiving death threats, a fact The New York Times rather casually drops halfway through its weekend update:

When Klaus Radke, president of the club where Mr. Lubitz learned to fly gliders, the Luftsportclub Westerwald, first met him, he was a typical 14-year-old who was unusual only in his wide-eyed fascination with flying, Mr. Radke said. Last fall, when Mr. Lubitz came back to the club to put in some flight hours he needed to keep his glider’s license current, Mr. Radke was impressed at the fit, by all appearances self-assured and professional pilot that Mr. Lubitz had become.

“When I saw him as an adult compared to a youth, I thought, ‘He really amounted to something,’” Mr. Radke said Saturday. “He was confident, helpful. I thought, ‘Man, he’s someone who made it.’” Mr. Radke, who said the club had received emailed death threats for helping Mr. Lubitz begin his flying career, picked up no sign last year that anything was amiss.

“I’m not a doctor,” Mr. Radke said. “For me he was normal.”

Time and again, the same adjectives pop up when people remember Mr. Lubitz. He was courteous and friendly, but reserved and not someone who drew attention to himself–thoroughly normal. The one thing that set him apart was his love of flying.

Despite Mr. Radke’s frequent assurances that Lubitz was a fine young man, he is quoted later in the same NYT piece criticizing Germanwings for not asking more questions about Lubitz’ medical issues: “If you’re driving a car and the oil light goes on, do you keep driving? No. If no action was taken, there’s a flaw in the system.”

In addition to the flight club, the Associated Press reports that their hometown of Montabaur has rallied around the Lubitz family, with the pastor of their Lutheran church declaring, “The co-pilot, the family belong to our community, and we stand by this, and we embrace them and will not hide this, and want to support the family in particular.” The pastor, who has known Andreas Lubitz since he was a teenager, said everyone in the community was stunned by the “incomprehensible” story of the Germanwings crash.

One interesting exception to the nearly universal praise Lubitz has received from those who knew him is his ex-girlfriend, an as-yet unidentified flight attendant he dated last year. The woman appears to be the source of all the disturbing quotes about erratic behavior and emotional instability to emerge since the crash. In The New York Times article, she describes Lubitz as “unstable” and quoted him vowing to “do something that will change the entire system and everyone will know my name and remember it.” The authorities will, doubtless, scrutinize testimony from Lubitz’ ex-girlfriend very carefully.

As for Lubitz’ current girlfriend, the UK Independent reports that she was living with him in Dusseldorf, was a teacher by profession, and had recently informed her pupils that she was pregnant. The Independent says Lubitz was planning to marry her, although other sources last week reported the engagement had been broken off or delayed; the relationship was apparently firm enough for Lubitz to have ordered new cars for both of them. She and Lubitz evidently knew each other since their school days.

The NYT article drops one other interesting bit of new information: Lubitz “sought treatment for vision problems that may have jeopardized his ability to continue working as a pilot,” according to two officials with knowledge of the investigation. The severity of his vision problem has not yet been disclosed to the public, although one of the Times‘ sources said the problem might have been psychosomatic. (The Independent quotes unnamed sources who say he was suffering from a detached retina.)

The Times also mentions that the police found anti-depressant medication in Lubitz’ Dusseldorf apartment. The most remarkable news about his history of psychiatric care was broken by NBC News on Monday morning: “The first officer blamed for the crash of Germanwings Flight 4U9525 had been treated in the past after experiencing suicidal tendencies, officials said Monday.”

Perhaps Lubitz was driven over the edge by fear that his vision problems would end the flying career he worked for since he was a child–an especially traumatic development if he was about to marry his pregnant girlfriend. Or maybe a psychosomatic vision problem will turn out to be another symptom of the emotional problems he was apparently able to hide from his employers. Expect considerable attention to be paid to that detail of this terrible incident, as Germany, and probably other governments around the world, consider measures that would make it more difficult for pilots and flight crew to conceal relevant medical information from their employers, and airlines are given more incentives to be aggressive in seeking out such information.


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