The plunge of Germanwings Flight 9525 into the French Alps, killing 150 aboard, may not have been a terror act with a religious motivation.
But, in any case, the apparently deliberate crashing of the jetliner by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz certainly could terrorize airline passengers who previously had little reason to doubt the integrity of their pilots.
It wasn’t the first time an airline pilot has been suspected of murdering his passengers.
Allegations remain against the captain of the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared in 2014 and never has been found.
The pilot, described as “fanatical” and “obsessive,” was said to be “profoundly upset” on the day Flight MH370 vanished.
In October 1999, one of the worst air disasters in modern history occurred when Egypt Air Flight 990 crashed into the Atlantic shortly after takeoff from New York City.
It wasn’t until two-and-a-half years later that the National Transportation Safety Board finally reached the conclusion many observers and analysts had offered immediately after the crash. The NTSB concluded the plane’s Egyptian co-pilot, Gameel El-Batouty, had cut power to the engines and intentionally sent the plane plummeting into the ocean, killing all 217 people aboard.
The U.S. government panel declined to suggest a motive, except to speculate that Batouty might have “committed suicide.” The Los Angeles Times suggested Batouty might have been taking revenge against an Egypt Air executive who was aboard the flight.
However, to most people, “mass murder” or “terrorism” constituted a more apt description than “suicide.” The federal report steered clear of motives despite the fact that the co-pilot had calmly repeated over and over the Arabic phrase “Tawakkalt ala Allah” – meaning “I rely on Allah” – for almost a minute and a half during his deed. The NTSB acknowledged his behavior was “not consistent with the reaction that would be expected from a pilot who is encountering an unexpected or uncommanded flight condition.”
The Atlantic Monthly reported Batouty “had gone haywire” after the main pilot took a bathroom break, leaving him free to purposefully crash the plane.
The evidence for the Germanwings disaster this week suggests a similar scenario.
A French prosecutor presented some of the information from the voice recorder in the Airbus 320 that took off from Spain en route to Dusseldorf, Germany, and crashed in France without sending out a single distress signal.
The captain was heard asking the co-pilot to take over command of the plane, the prosecutor said, and the door closed.
“As this stage, the co-pilot is in control, alone,” he said. “It is when he is alone that the co-pilot manipulates the flight monitoring system to activate the descent of the plan,” a move that could only have been “voluntary.”
The captain could be heard knocking on the door and soon pounding on it, asking to be admitted, but there was no response from the co-pilot, except “breathing,” up to the point of impact.
Passengers “could be heard screaming before the crash,” the official said.
History of ‘desire to destroy’
While a definite conclusion that such a crash was a murder-suicide is seldom possible, there have been other cases over the years in which the evidence was strong.
NBC assembled a list with Germanwings Flight 9525 at the top, citing the evidence from French investigators that Lubitz “intentionally brought the plane into a rapid descent and had a ‘desire to destroy’ the Airbus.”
Also listed was the 2013 crash of Mozambican Airlines Flight 470 in which aviation officials found the pilot had “clear intention” to crash the plan when the plane went down in Namibia, killing 33 people.
The report said the pilot had made a “deliberate series of maneuvers” that caused the crash, the BBC reported investigators saying.
The list also cited the 1997 Silkair 185 crash, when a Singapore-bound Boeing 737 hit Indonesia’s Paloembang River, killing 104. The voice recorder had been intentionally disconnected, and pilot Tsu Way Ming did not attempt any corrective maneuvers after the plan went into a nosedive.
In 1994, Royal Air Maroc Flight 185 killed 44 when it hit the Atlas Mountains in Morocco shortly after takeoff. Investigators found the accident was due to the “deliberate will of the pilot who wished to end his life.”
And in 1982, there was a Japan Air Lines DC-8 that crashed short of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport runway. The report said there was a struggle in the cockpit, and the crash killed 24 of the 174 people.
According to the London Daily Mirror, the Germanwings captain had 6,000 flying hours, while his co-pilot had 600.
The report said there was a “very smooth” conversation between the two during the early portion of the flight, but when the pilot apparently left, the door closed, the jet started a steep descent, and there was no further comment from the co-pilot and no distress signals.
Experts said the pilot should have been able to access to cockpit with an emergency code for use in cases such as the incapacitation of a pilot. But there’s also an option for someone inside the cockpit to lock out anyone from entering.
The Daily Beast was blunt in its assessment of the case, stating in a headline “Kamikaze co-pilot commits mass murder.”
Lubitz, 28, had been accepted for training by the airline, which is owned by Lufthansa, but the mother of a classmate told a German publication that he took time off during the training because of “burnout, depression.”
The London Daily Mail reported Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said the co-pilot “did this for a reason which we don’t know why, but we can only deduct that he destroyed this plane.”
Recovery workers at the site of the crash reported that many of the people seem to have been “vaporized,” because “the biggest body parts we identified are no bigger than a briefcase.”
It was reported that two Americans, U.S. government contractor Yvonne Selke and daughter, Emily, of Nokesville, Virginia, were among the victims.