Germanwings plane crash could be the second-deadliest pilot suicide in history

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz had hidden an unspecified recent illness from employers

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The Independent Online

If the Germanwings plane crash was a “criminal, mad, suicidal action” by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz as French authorities claim, it will be the second-most deadly pilot suicide in history.

All 150 people on board the flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf died instantly on Tuesday when the aircraft ploughed into a mountainside in the French Alps at 430mph.

French prosecutors announced yesterday that evidence from the Airbus A320’s cockpit voice recorder indicated the Mr Lubitz locked the captain out and sent the plane into a fatal eight-minute descent.Brice Robin, the Marseille public prosecutor, told a press conference that conversation before the captain left for a toilet break was “normal” but he returned to find he could not get back into the cockpit.

As he pounded on the door and air traffic controllers attempted to contact the plane, only the sound of alarms from plane computers and Mr Lubitz’s regular breathing could be heard.

Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, said today: “I am careful when there is a judicial inquiry, but everything points to a criminal, mad, suicidal action that we cannot comprehend.

“It is up to this company to provide a maximum of information so that we can understand why this pilot committed this dreadful act.”

There is only one alleged pilot suicide that killed more people – Egypt Air flight 990, which crashed in 1999 killing 217 people.

Deliberate action by a pilot has been raised as one of the numerous possible theories for the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in March last year, although the plane’s fate remains a mystery.

Here is a chronological list of alleged pilot suicides on commercial aircraft carrying passengers, using information from the Aviation Safety Network.

Japan Airlines Flight 350

9 February 1982 – 24 fatalities

Japan Airlines suffered another disaster just three years later

A DC-8 aeroplane crashed into Tokyo Bay during a domestic flight from Fukuoka to Tokyo.

Captain Seiji Katagiri, 35, cancelled the autopilot while the aircraft was on final approach to Haneda Airport, pushed his controls forward put the throttles in idle.

The co-pilot tried to regain control but the aircraft crashed into the sea, killing 24 people out of the 166 passengers and eight crew.

Mr Katagiri, who survived, was found to be suffering from mental illness and was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

Royal Air Maroc Flight 630

21 August 1994 – 44 fatalities

There were no survivors from the Royal Air Maroc plane

An ATR-42 plane crashed in the Atlas Mountains 10 minutes after take-off from Agadir, Morocco, for Casablanca.

From 16,000ft, it entered a steep dive that the investigation commission concluded was caused by the autopilot being internally disconnected by the pilot.

The Moroccan Pilots’ Union challenged the finding that 32-year-old Younes Khayati then deliberately crashed the aircraft.

The accident was suggested to have been caused by the captain disconnecting the autopilot and directing the aircraft to the ground deliberately. The Moroccan Pilot’s Union challenged these findings. 

Silk Air Flight 185

19 December 1997 – 104 fatalities

Silk Air flight 185 crashed killing 104 people

The Boeing 737 was flying from Jakarta, Indonesia, to Singapore when it crashed near Palembang in southern Sumatra following an almost vertical dive from cruising altitude.

The descent from 35,000ft took under a minute, causing the plane to travel faster than the speed of sound and disintegrate before impact.

Indonesian authorities were not able to determine the cause of the accident but it has been suggested by several international authorities, including the American NTSB, that that the captain may have committed suicide by switching off both flight recorders and intentionally starting a dive, possibly when the first officer had left the flight deck.

Other investigations claimed the aircraft's rudder controls were faulty and victims’ families later reached an out-of-court settlement with the manufacturer.

Egypt Air Flight 990

31 October 1999 – 217 fatalities

Gamil Al-Batuti, the co-pilot aboard doomed EgyptAir flight 990, which crashed into the Atlantic with 217 people aboard en route to Cairo in 1999.

The Boeing 767 was on a regular flight from Los Angeles to Egypt, with a stop at JFK airport in New York, when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean 60 miles south of Nantucket Island.

It entered a rapid descent 30 minutes after departure from New York, moments after the captain had left the flight deck on a toilet break and put the first officer in control.

He was heard saying “I rely on God” seconds later, repeating the statement after disconnecting the autopilot and pitching the plane nose-down.

Before the black box recording stopped, the captain can be heard demanding: ”What's happening? What is this? Did you shut the engines?“

American investigators at the NTSB concluded that the accident was a “result of the relief first officer’s flight control inputs. The reason for the relief first officer’s actions was not determined.”

But suggestions of a deliberate act were heavily disputed by Egyptian authorities, who concluded that the crash was caused by mechanical failure of the aircraft's elevator control system.

The NTSB report had determined that no mechanical failure could result in aircraft movements that matched those shown by the black box, and even if there was a fault the aircraft would have been saved by its automatic redundant elevator control system.

LAM Mozambique Airlines Flight 470

29 November 2013 – 33 fatalities

The Namibia crash was one of several alleged pilot suicides where a crew member had left the cockpit for a toilet break

The flight from Maputo International Airport, Mozambique, to Quatro de Fevereiro Airport, Angola, crashed in Namibia.

The Embraer 190 aircraft entered a rapid descent half way through its journey, killing everyone on board on impact.

Preliminary findings showed that the captain intentionally crashed the jet by making control inputs that directed the plane to the ground, shortly after the first officer left the cockpit for a toilet break.

Black box recordings showed the sound of someone pounding on the cockpit door moments before the crash.

Rumours suggested the pilot's son had died the previous year, and that he had been experiencing marital difficulties.