Germanwings plane crash: Pilots defend Andreas Lubitz saying investigators should not 'rush to conclusions'

French prosecutors claim he deliberately crashed the plane, killing all 150 people on board

Pilots around the world have reacted with consternation to the conclusion that Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps.

Investigators announced yesterday that evidence from the Airbus A320’s cockpit voice recorder suggested that the 27-year-old locked the captain out of the flight deck before setting the aircraft to descend and killing all 150 people on board.

Vereinigung Cockpit, known in English as the German Airline Pilots Association, said it was too quick to draw conclusions before the recovery of the second black box.

The flight data recorder contains detailed information about the plane’s operations and altitude to accompany audio from the cockpit.

Ilja Schulz, President of the association, said: “We should not rush to conclusions based upon limited data.

“The reasons that led to this tragic accident will only be determined after all data sources have been thoroughly examined.”

Airlines have already started to react to the tragedy by introducing a “two pilot rule”, already in place in the US, to ensure a second crew member is in the cockpit at all times.

The German Airline Pilots Association cautioned against “hastily” implementing the measures in the wake of the disaster, saying government agencies, airlines and pilots should work together to change procedures only after the investigation is completed.

James Phillips, international affairs director of the group, told Time magazine he had an “angry” reaction to the blaming of Mr Lubitz.

“It is a very, very incomplete picture,” he added. “I have the feeling that there was a search for a quick answer, rather than a good answer.”

The British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) has not commented on the preliminary findings but expressed support for the German pilot community and sympathy with the loved ones of the passengers, pilots and crew on board flight 4U 9525.

Chairman Brendan O’Neal said: “A meticulous investigation will establish exactly what has happened and help pilots do everything we can to ensure it does not happen again.”

In America, the Air Line Pilots Association said it was “deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life” and sought to reassure air passengers in the US.

"In the United States, at least two crew members are required to be present in the cockpit at all times,” a spokesperson said.

"Airline pilots in the United States and Canada are subject to rigorous screening and evaluation prior to being hired, including an assessment of the pilot's mental and emotional state. Once hired, pilots are evaluated continuously.”

The association emphasised that “many factors” may have contributed to the crash and urged people not to speculate as the investigation continues.

Scrutiny has focused on Germanwings and Lufthansa’s hiring policies following yesterday’s announcement, amid reports that Mr Lubitz had received psychiatric treatment causing a long break in his flight training.

A body of a victim is evacuated by a French Gendarmerie rescue helicopter from the crash site

He had a “serious depressive episode” six years ago and spent a total of one and a half years in treatment, Bild reported.

Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr said: “Six years ago there was a lengthy interruption in his training.

“After he was cleared again, he resumed training. He passed all the subsequent tests and checks with flying colours. His flying abilities were flawless.”

Mr Spohr initially said he did not see any reason for Lufthansa and Germanwings to change its procedures allowing pilots to fly alone.

A Germanwings employee places flowers in commemoration of the victims of the Germanwings plane crash in the French Alps, at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany

“It was a one-off case,” he added. “But we will look at it with the various experts at Lufthansa and the authorities.

“We shouldn't lose ourselves in short-term measures.”

The incident has also caused a re-examination of the post-9/11 policy requiring cockpit doors to be impenetrable when locked from the inside.

Last year's disappearance of flight MH370 raised questions of pilot suicide, although the reason for the plane’s disappearance has never been confirmed.

LAM Flight TM-470 crashed in Namibia in November 2013 after what investigators said were “intentional actions by the pilot” after the first officer left the flight deck, causing the death of 33 people.

An Egypt Air flight 990 from Los Angeles to Cairo crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 1999, killing all 217 on board.

The cause is disputed but American investigators determined the probable cause was deliberate action by the relief first officer.

Additional reporting by agencies