Germanwings Pilot Searched Web About Suicide and Cockpit Doors, Officials Say


The co-pilot at the controls of the Germanwings airliner that crashed into the French Alps last week had been searching the Internet in the days immediately before for information about how to commit suicide and the security measures for cockpit doors, prosecutors said Thursday.

Investigators found an iPad belonging to the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, at his apartment in Düsseldorf that included his browser history from March 16 to March 23, the day before the crash, prosecutors said.

“During this time, the user was searching for medical treatments, as well as informing himself about ways and possibilities of killing himself,” they said in a statement. “On at least one day, the person concerned also spent several minutes looking up search terms about cockpit doors and their safety measures.”

The disclosure came as investigators in France reported finding the second so-called black box from the March 24 crash of the Airbus A320 jetliner, which killed all 150 people aboard.

In the days since French prosecutors first said that Mr. Lubitz appeared to have crashed the plane deliberately, many in Germany have questioned what they say is a rush to judgment. Even as information emerged about Mr. Lubitz’s struggles with depression and vision problems, possibly psychosomatic, commentators and acquaintances argued that the cockpit recording recovered last week was not definitive and that a technical failure could have been to blame.

The fact that Mr. Lubitz had been researching the security measures for the cockpit door seems to indicate that his actions were not only intentional but probably premeditated. French prosecutors say voice recordings and other data from the flight show that Mr. Lubitz, 27, locked the captain out of the cockpit and then set a course into the mountainside.

French officials said Thursday that the cockpit recordings indicated that a speed alarm was deactivated twice, which means it is unlikely Mr. Lubitz was unconscious or otherwise incapacitated during the plane’s descent. They had previously said that his steady breathing could be heard on the recordings.

Gaby Dubbert, a German criminal psychologist and forensic expert who has analyzed 31 murder-suicides and written a book on the subject, said premeditation was often a common thread. “Based on the cases in my study, the majority of murder-suicides are planned, planned well ahead of time,” she said.

Brice Robin, the chief Marseille prosecutor in charge of the investigation, told reporters at a televised news conference that the exterior of the second black box had been burned and buried in rubble, but that “its general state gives us reasonable hope that it can be exploited.”

Mr. Robin also said that “150 distinct DNA profiles” had been isolated by the police crime laboratory from recovered remains, an important step toward positive identification, which is to start next week. “For each identification, the family of the victim thus identified will be immediately informed, whatever their nationality,” Mr. Robin said.

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Germanwings Crash: How the Lock on the Cockpit Door Works

A summary of an Airbus video that describes how to lock and unlock the cockpit door.

OPEN GRAPHIC

Nearly half the victims on the Barcelona-to-Düsseldorf flight were German. But citizens from more than a dozen other countries were also aboard, including 35 from Spain and at least two from the United States. Some passengers had dual nationalities.

Mr. Robin also said that 40 cellphones had been found at the crash site. “These phones are in a very, very damaged condition, which will make exploiting them very hard,” he said.

The discovery of the second black box, the flight data recorder, should enable the authorities to determine more precisely what actions Mr. Lubitz took to put the plane into its fatal descent and to prevent the captain from re-entering the cockpit.

Prosecutors in Düsseldorf declined to release any information on the exact search terms found on Mr. Lubitz’s iPad. They said such details must remain confidential until all the evidence had been evaluated. They also said they were working with the local and state police to evaluate the documents and electronic devices found in Mr. Lubitz’s apartment. The police spent several hours searching his home last Thursday, removing two moving boxes and large plastic bags full of possible evidence.

Among the items found was the iPad, which prosecutors said contained “personal correspondence and search terms that lead to the conclusion that the device was used by the co-pilot” in the days before the crash.

“Everything that helps to understand better what happened is something we welcome,” Gernot Waha, a spokesman in Frankfurt for Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, said in response to the information provided by the Düsseldorf prosecutors and the discovery of the flight data recorder. He said he could not comment further.

The flight data recorder tracks hundreds of performance statistics from the plane, including its position, speed, altitude and direction. Officials said the recorder would be transported to the offices of France’s accidents investigation bureau near Paris.

An official involved in the investigation said that the recorder’s protective case did not appear to have been significantly damaged, raising hopes that the data contained on its flash memory card would be successfully retrieved and synchronized with the voice recorder recovered soon after the crash. The official, who requested anonymity because the inquiry was continuing, confirmed that the flight data recorder had been found intact.

Last week, searchers found a severely damaged device that they initially believed was the flight data recorder’s external case, leading them to conclude — and President François Hollande to announce — that the recorder’s memory card had been dislodged by the force of the crash. However, the official said that device had subsequently been determined to be an antenna.

Investigators are likely to spend the next several weeks conducting a detailed analysis of the two black box recordings in order to assemble a fuller picture of what happened in the flight’s final moments.

A team of German aviation experts and industry representatives plans to examine whether to introduce changes to cockpit door controls and to the medical assessment of pilots because of the crash, Germany’s transportation minister said Thursday. Investigators believe that Mr. Lubitz prevented the captain from returning to the cockpit by activating security mechanisms, introduced after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that are designed to prevent outsiders from entering and seizing the controls.

A thorough exploration of what changes, if any, could be made to cockpit doors will be one of the first tasks taken up by the German experts, said Alexander Dobrindt, Germany’s transportation minister. He noted, however, that any changes would require consultation with European and international agencies.

Last week, airlines in Germany and elsewhere in Europe rushed to introduce a requirement that two crew members be present in the cockpit at all times, a rule that American carriers have had in place for many years.

Germany is also debating whether to systematically require passengers on flights within Europe to show a piece of personal identification in addition to their ticket before boarding planes. The authorities initially struggled to determine exactly who had been aboard the flight when they ran checks on whether any of the passengers had links to terrorism.

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