© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Germanwings Co-Pilot Had History Of Depression, German Reports Reveal


What makes this week's German plane crash especially chilling is that the co-pilot said nothing. A cockpit voice recorder picks up the co-pilot's breathing. It captures the sound of a pilot trying to break into the cockpit from which he'd been locked out. A prosecutor says the recording does not capture the co-pilot saying a word. That leaves investigators looking for clues in the life of Andreas Lubitz. This morning, the German press reveals that Lubitz had a history of depression. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Last night, German police searched the two residences of Andreas Lubitz. He had an apartment in Dusseldorf, his flight base, but reportedly also lived with his parents in a house in the small town of Montabaur, about 60 miles from Frankfurt.



BEARDSLEY: German TV showed police leaving the house with boxes of personal effects and a computer. According to the German tabloid newspaper Bild, police said they had made a significant discovery. The newspaper says that Lubitz had been under treatment for depression for the last six years and that he suffered from acute anxiety. Bild reported that the Lubitz's troubles can be traced back to 2009 when he dropped out of flight school for a brief period.


CARSTEN SPOHR: (Speaking German).

BEARDSLEY: Yesterday, the CEO of Lufthansa, Carsten Spohr, acknowledged Lubitz's break in training, but said he returned to school afterward and got his skills up to par. Spohr said German medical confidentiality laws prohibited him from saying more.


SPOHR: (Through interpreter) And after that, he was successful in all of the medical checks, the psychological tests. He went through all of that with flying colors.

BEARDSLEY: Spohr said Lubitz completed training at Lufthansa in both its Bremen and Phoenix, Ariz., schools, though according to Bild, the Arizona branch briefly listed him as unsuitable for flight duties because he spent a year and a half in psychological treatment. Lubitz qualified as a pilot in 2013. Irene Hufnagel is one of the doctors who performs the mandatory yearly medical checks on German pilots. She says it's easy to miss things.

IRENE HUFNAGEL: (Through interpreter) The tests are flawed insofar that we only see the patient for an hour or so, and we have to rely on what they tell us about any psychological issues or whether they're taking antidepressants.

BEARDSLEY: Bild reported that Lubitz had just broken up with his girlfriend and was in what it described as a personal crisis. Investigators are looking at that to provide clues as to why he would take 149 people on board to their deaths with him. French psychiatrist Samuel LePasteur, speaking on French television, says the psychotropic drugs Lubitz was reportedly taking could have affected his behavior.


SAMUEL LEPASTEUR: (Through interpreter) There could have been two effects. First, these drugs can slow reflexes. And secondly, some antidepressants remove inhibitions, so it would make it easier for someone to do something unthinkable.

BEARDSLEY: People interviewed in Lubitz's hometown said the news was indeed unthinkable. Peter Rucker belonged to a local flying club with Lubitz.

PETER RUCKER: (Through interpreter) There was never a situation where we questioned his behavior. He was a team player; he fit in; he pulled his weight, and he had fun flying here, too.

BEARDSLEY: When police searched Lubitz's house Thursday, the curtains were drawn. His parents were in France. They arrived yesterday with the other victims' families before being pulled aside and told that their son had deliberately steered his passengers and crew to their deaths. French officials kept the relatives of crew members apart from the families of the passengers. While Lubitz's background is still being scrutinized, his actions have already changed the industry. Airlines across Europe and Canada say they will now, like the U.S., require the presence of two people in the cockpit. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.