Co-pilot locked captain out
THE young co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings flight deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps, after locking his captain out of the cockpit, but is not believed to be part of a terrorist plot, French officials said yesterday.
The 28-year-old co-pilot "deliberately" initiated the plane's descent, Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin told a press conference in which he revealed the details of recordings made by the Airbus' cockpit flight recorder in the final minutes before the crash that killed all 150 aboard.
"The co-pilot is alone at the controls," Mr Robin said. "He voluntarily refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot and voluntarily began the descent of the plane."
There was no immediate clue to the motive of the co-pilot, but investigators appeared to rule out terrorism.
"At this moment, there is no indication that this is an act of terrorism," Mr Robin said, adding that the co-pilot, identified as Andreas Lubitz, had no known terrorist connection. "He was not known to us."
Despite the horrifying scenario of a rogue co-pilot sending the Germanwings crew and passengers to their deaths, Mr Robin said that the passengers on board probably were unaware "until the end".
"The screams aren't heard until the end," he said. All six crew and 144 passengers died "instantly", he added.
The co-pilot, who deliberately set the controls "to accelerate the plane's descent" into the side of a mountain in a region famous for its ski resorts, "was conscious until the moment of impact," he said.
The shocking new information was released, as families and friends of victims began arriving in France to travel to the remote mountainous crash site area.
Tents were set up for them near the crash site area to give DNA samples to start the process of identifying the bodies of loved ones, at least 51 of whom were Spaniards and at least 72 Germans.
A mountain guide who got near the crash site - which is situated at about 1,500m above ground and is accessible only by helicopter or an arduous hike on foot - said he was unable to make out recognisable body parts.
"It's incredible. An Airbus is enormous. When you arrive and there's nothing there...it's very shocking," said the guide, who did not wish to be identified.
Systems that lock a cockpit door have existed since the 1980s, and strict procedures became standard after Sept 11, 2001 to prevent attackers from taking control of civilian aircraft.
"The cockpit is equipped with an armoured door," confirmed a spokesman for Germanwings.
"There is a video surveillance system that allows someone who wants to enter the cockpit to be identified. Only a pilot inside can unlock the door," the spokesman added.