Doctor urged Germanwings pilot to seek help in psychiatric hospital before crash

Arnaud Desjardin, deputy head of the investigations unit dedicated to the Germanwings crash at BEA presents the final report on the Germanwings air crash at the BEA headquarters in Le Bourget, France on March 13, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (Reuters/AFP) - A private doctor recommended that the German pilot who crashed a Germanwings jet into the Alps last year should be treated in a psychiatric hospital two weeks before the disaster, French investigators said on Sunday (March 13).

Prosecutors believe co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who had a history of severe depression, barricaded himself into the cockpit and deliberately propelled his Airbus jet into a mountainside on March 24, 2015, killing all 150 people on board.

France's Aviation Investigation and Analysis Office (BEA) air accident investigation office said in its final report that Lubitz had begun to show symptoms that could be consistent with a psychotic depressive episode in December 2014 and consulted several doctors over the following months, none of whom alerted aviation authorities or his employer.

Prosecutors have found evidence that the co-pilot, who also had eyesight problems and may have feared losing his job, had researched suicide methods and concealed his illness from his employer, sparking a debate on supervision and medical secrecy.

The BEA said his mental state had not generated any concerns reported by the pilots who flew with him.

However it cited a "lack of clear guidelines in German regulations" on when a threat to public safety outweighs the requirements of medical confidentiality.

BEA civil aviation experts also recommended more stringent medical checks for pilots, but stopped short of suggesting changes to the current system of flight deck door locks, which can only be opened by the pilot in the cockpit.

"Clearer rules are needed to establish when it is necessary to lift medical confidentiality," investigator Arnaud Desjardin said at the launch of the BEA report. "Several doctors in private practice had the information (that Lubitz) was ill," he said.

"This information was not passed on to aeronautical authorities or to his employer Germanwings." The report also recommended regular analysis of pilots to check for "psychological or psychiatric problems".

Lubitz had been flying on a medical certificate that contained a waiver because of a severe depressive episode from August 2008 to July 2009. The waiver stated that the certificate would become invalid if there was a relapse into depression.

The BEA urged European authorities to carry out more research on the incapacitation of pilots, particularly where psychiatric issues are involved, and to tighten the rules for follow-up checks when pilots with a history of psychiatric problems are declared fit to fly.

Germany's pilot union Cockpit on Sunday welcomed the safety recommendations. "The safety recommendations... form a balanced package of measures to prevent a repeat of such disasters," said Markus Wahl, spokesman for the union, calling for it to be "implemented in its entirety".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.