Final Germanwings Crash Report Says Co-Pilot on Medication, Referred for Hospitalization

A French aviation agency released a final investigation report into the 2015 crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz. EMMANUEL FOUDROT/REUTERS

Updated | Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was on medication at the time he crashed Germanwings Flight 9525 into the French Alps on March 24, 2015, and his doctor had recommended he enter a hospital two weeks earlier, according to a final investigation report released Sunday by the French government's aviation safety agency.

The 110-page report by the French Civil Aviation Safety Investigation Authority (BEA) comes nearly a year after Lubitz crashed the plane traveling to Dusseldorf, Germany, from Barcelona, Spain, killing all 150 people on board. The report confirms that Lubitz crashed the plane because of a mental health condition and as an act of suicide.

As previous reports on the crash have indicated, the BEA report says that when the pilot left Lubitz alone in the cockpit, he adjusted the autopilot so that the plane would descend and did not unlock the cockpit door to allow the pilot to re-enter. He ignored calls from air traffic controllers and another airplane, knocks on the door, voices from the other side of the door and the sound of "violent blows" on the door. The pilot's attempts to re-enter the cockpit lasted for about four minutes. The warning of Terrain, terrain, pull up, pull up sounded for 25 seconds before impact. Lubitz can be heard breathing until seven seconds before the crash. Everyone on board died upon impact.

The report details the issue of what types of information medical professionals should share with aviation authorities and contains safety recommendations.

At a news conference on Sunday, according to Reuters, BEA Director Remi Jouty said, "In Germany and in France, doctors are very attached to this notion of medical secrecy, but I hope there will be some moves there."

The report confirms that Lubitz had suffered from "a severe depressive episode without psychotic symptoms that had lasted from August 2008 until July 2009." His depression resurfaced in late 2014, the report says, a few months before the crash. In December 2014, he "started to show symptoms that could be consistent with a psychotic depressive episode. He consulted several doctors, including a psychiatrist on at least two occasions, who prescribed anti-depressant medication."

But the episode continued, the report says. In February 2015, his private doctor diagnosed him with psychosomatic disorder and anxiety disorders and told him to meet with a psycotherapist and psychiatrist. Around that time, a psychiatrist gave him a prescription for an antidepressant and sleep-aid medication. On March 10, two weeks before the crash, his doctor "diagnosed a possible psychosis and recommended psychiatric hospital treatment."

The report continues: "Neither of those health care providers informed any aviation authority, nor any other authority about the co-pilot's mental state. Several sick leave certificates were issued by these physicians, but not all of them were forwarded to Germanwings."

The report says that on the day of the crash, Lubitz's mental health condition "made him unfit to fly." However, without notification from the medical professionals, or from Lubitz himself or anyone who knew him, the report says, "no action could have been taken by the authorities and/or his employer to prevent him from flying on the day of the accident."

The report says a toxicology examination found the antidepressants citalopram and mirtazapine and the sleep-aid medication zopiclone in Lubitz's remains.

The recommendations include improving practices for preventing or handling the in-flight incapacitation of a pilot. The report also recommends airlines encourage employees to self-report mental health issues by acting on the consequences for not reporting or by lowering the financial cost of losing a pilot license. The French agency also says airlines should define under what conditions or while on which medications pilots should not be able to fly.

As for disclosing a pilot's mental health information, the report recommends that the World Health Organization issue guidelines for what information should and should not be shared. The agency also recommends that airlines promote peer support groups for pilots.

Though mandating that two crew members are in the cockpit at all times can help, the report says, a second crew member may not always be able to stop the other from doing what Lubitz did.

In a statement on Sunday, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA), which represents more than 100,000 pilots in about 100 countries, said it supports the BEA recommendations and urged regulators to implement them.

"The safety recommendations of the accident investigation authority form a balanced package of measures designed to make such a disaster in the future less likely," IFALPA President Mark Chalk said in the statement. "It is important that this package is implemented in its entirety and not just those parts which seem easy to implement."

Brian Alexander, a New York-based attorney who represents around 80 families of the flight victims, says he is still reviewing the report but he feels it does not address certain elements that might have prevented the crash.

"I think it is very typical, not a very deep investigation into the issues that really matter, which are how we got here," he tells Newsweek. "They want to spend a lot of time talking about doctors missing opportunities to advise the employer, without really assailing Lufthansa Flight Training company.... I just think there's plenty of blame to go around for how Lubitz got there, but they're missing what we think is the real critical moment when the U.S. flight school was armed with the knowldge that this guy was defective."

For the report to say that no action could have been taken, he adds, "that's just insane. It's insane. Honestly, I've never been this upset about a whitewash in all the years I've done this, and I've seen some crazy stuff."

Alexander says he plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of the families against a Lufthansa flight school that Lubitz attended in Arizona and possibly other defendants. He plans on filing later this month, around the one-year anniversary of the crash.

Germanwings is part of the Lufthansa Group. "For Lufthansa and the airlines of the Lufthansa Group, the highest possible flight safety is, and remains to be, of utmost priority. This, the company works on constantly and continuously," Christina Semmel, a spoksewoman for Lufthansa Group, tells Newsweek in a statement via email. "The company will therefore continue to cooperate with the responsible authorities and will support with the possible implementation of concrete measures, based on the accident investigation report...published by the BEA."

This article has been updated to include comments from attorney Brian Alexander and a Lufthansa Group spokeswoman.