Pilot told Lufthansa in 2009 of 'previous episode of severe depression': Company

Lufthansa said Tuesday that the co-pilot of the Germanwings jet that crashed killing all 150 people aboard - Andreas Lubitz (above) - had informed the airline in 2009 that he had previously suffered from severe depression. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Lufthansa said Tuesday that the co-pilot of the Germanwings jet that crashed killing all 150 people aboard - Andreas Lubitz (above) - had informed the airline in 2009 that he had previously suffered from severe depression. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (AFP) - The co-pilot suspected of deliberately crashing a Germanwings plane in the French Alps had informed his employer that he had undergone a "previous episode of severe depression", Lufthansa said Tuesday.

The airline, which owns Germanwings, said 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz had told the company in 2009 about his illness after interrupting his flight training.

Lufthansa added that it had handed additional documents, especially medical and training documents, to prosecutors in the western city of Duesseldorf after "further internal investigations".

The airline had until now only said that Lubitz had interrupted his training for several months six years ago but its chief Carsten Spohr had not provided an explanation as to why he did so.

The chief executives of Lufthansa and Germanwings will travel Wednesday to the crash area.

Spohr, head of the parent company Lufthansa, and Thomas Winkelmann from the Germanwings low-cost subsidiary will visit Seyne-les-Alpes early Wednesday to pay their respects to the dead.

French President Francois Hollande, meanwhile, said on a one-day visit to Berlin that identifying the 150 people on board Flight 4U9525 would help allow the families to grieve.

"The interior minister (Bernard Cazeneuve) has confirmed that by the end of the week, it would be possible to identify all the victims thanks to the DNA samples taken and to this exceptional scientific work," Hollande said.

The French President was speaking at a press conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel following a joint meeting of their two Cabinets.

"There are no more bodies at the site. Tomorrow, 20 military climbers will go there with teams to recover the personal effects," Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Marc Menechini told AFP near the crash site.

Half of the victims were German - at least 50 were also from Spain - and Merkel also praised the work of rescuers in the remote mountainous terrain, as well as the way local people had helped the victims' families.

The remainder of the victims were a mix of more than a dozen other nationalities.

A local regional official from the crash area Patricia Willaert told reporters Tuesday that more than 450 relatives had made their way there so far.


Lufthansa, meanwhile, said US$300 million (S$410 million) in provisions had been earmarked to cover the damages.

The sum includes financial compensation for the families of the people who died and the cost of the Airbus A320 jet itself, which belonged to Germanwings, a company spokeswoman told AFP.

The current list price of an Airbus A320 jet is US$93.9 million.

The director of operations at Germanwings, Oliver Wagner, has said that the company would immediately compensate each family with 50,000 euros (S$73,000).

This sum would not be deducted from any final compensation deal, he added.

The catastrophe has dealt a heavy blow to Lufthansa's image and it announced Tuesday it would cancel celebrations next month marking the airline's 60th anniversary "out of respect for the crash victims of flight 4U9525".

Investigators evaluating voice recorder data from a "black box" located last week say the co-pilot apparently locked his captain out of the cockpit and deliberately slammed the plane into a French mountainside.

The plane crashed at a speed of 700kmh, instantly killing all 150 people on board.

Lubitz was diagnosed as suicidal "several years ago", before he became a pilot, but had appeared more stable of late, German prosecutors said Monday.

Doctors had recently found no sign he intended to hurt himself or others, said Ralf Herrenbrueck, spokesman for the prosecutor's office in Duesseldorf.

However, he was receiving treatment from neurologists and psychiatrists who had signed him off sick from work a number of times, including the day of the crash.

The second "black box" recorder, which gathered technical data on the flight, has yet to be found.


Forensic teams have isolated almost 80 distinct DNA strands from the shattered aircraft and have described the task as "unprecedented" given the tricky mountain terrain and the speed at which the plane smashed.

French investigators said they would now concentrate on "the systemic weaknesses" that might have caused the disaster, including the logic of locking cockpit doors from the inside, which was introduced after the suicide hijackings of Sept 11, 2001, in the United States to stop terrorist attacks.

It said it would also look into procedures for detecting "specific psychologic profiles" in pilots after indications that Lubitz may have suffered from depression.

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