Pilot on radar: Andreas Lubitz, mystery figure in Germanwings crash

  • Agencies, Montabaur, Germany
  • Updated: Mar 27, 2015 01:21 IST

Andreas Lubitz never showed any sign he was anything but thrilled to have landed a job with Germanwings, according to those who taught him the trade as a teenager in his hometown Montabaur in the woody hills of Western Germany.

On Thursday, a French prosecutor said Lubitz, the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525, "intentionally" crashed the jet into the side of a mountain.

Lubitz left in sole control of the Airbus A320 after the captain left the cockpit, refused to re-open the door and operated a control that sent the plane into its final, fatal descent, prosecutor Brice Robin told a news conference on Thursday.

Members of the flight club in Montabaur, where Lubitz renewed his glider license only last fall, said the 28-year-old appeared to be happy with the job he had at the airline, a low-cost carrier in the Lufthansa Group.

After starting his job with Germanwings in September 2013, Lubitz was upbeat when he returned to the LSC Westerwald e.V glider club in the fall to renew his glider pilots' license with 20 or so takeoffs.

"He was happy he had the job with Germanwings and he was doing well," said longtime club member Peter Ruecker, who watched him learn to fly. "He was very happy. He gave off a good feeling."


Students mourn in front of the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium secondary school in Haltern am See, western Germany, from where some of the Germanwings plane crash victims came. (AFP Photo)

Club chairman Klaus Radke said he rejected Marseille prosecutors' conclusion that Lubitz put the Germanwings flight intentionally into a descent and dove it into the French Alps when the pilot had left the cockpit.

"I don't see how anyone can draw such conclusions before the investigation is completed," he said.

At the house believed to be his parents', the curtains were drawn and four police cars were parked outside.

Police kept the media away from the door of the single-family two-story home in a prosperous new subdivision on the edge of Montabaur, a town about 60 kilometers (nearly 40 miles) northwest of Frankfurt surrounded by wooded hills.

Neighbours refused to comment, and police told journalists to stay away.

Lubitz learned to fly at the glider club in a sleek white ASK-21 two-seat glider, which sits in a small hangar today on the side of the facility's grass runway.

Ruecker said that he remembers Lubitz as "rather quiet but friendly" when he first showed up at the club as a 14- or 15-year-old saying he wanted to learn to fly.


Employees of the German airline Lufthansa observe a minute of silence to pay tribute to the victims of a Germanwings airplane crash at the Duesseldorf airport. (AFP Photo)

On Thursday, a large hawk circled lazily over the runway using the same gentle updrafts that glider pilots use.

After obtaining his glider pilot's license as a teenager, he was accepted as a Lufthansa trainee after finishing the tough German abitur college preparatory school, at the town's Mons-Tabor High School.

Armin Pleiss, head teacher of the Mons-Tabor-Gymnasium high school where Lubitz graduated in 2007, said: "I am just as shocked and surprised as you are." Lubitz attended the school of 1,300 students before Pleiss became the principal.

According to Lufthansa, he trained in Bremen before starting to fly for Germanwings in September 2013. Ruecker said Lubitz also trained in Phoenix, Arizona. He had logged 630 hours' flight time by the time of the crash, the airline said.

Ruecker said Lubitz gave no indication during his fall visit to the club that anything was wrong. "He seemed very enthusiastic"about his career. "I can't remember anything where something wasn't right."

Ruecker said Lubitz had a girlfriend but did not have many more details about his life.

The 28-year-old lived with his parents there while keeping a flat in Duesseldorf, a Germanwings hub and the city for which the doomed flight from Barcelona was bound, Montabaur mayor Gabriele Wieland told national news agency, DPA.

Lubitz was registered as a member of a private flight club, LSC Westerwald, and was an avid runner who often took part in local races, according to public records.

Lubitz's family could not immediately be reached, but a recently deleted Facebook page bearing Lubitz's name showed him as a smiling man in a dark brown jacket posing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in California.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C), French President Francois Hollande (L) and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pay their respect to the victims in Seyne-les-Alpes. (AFP Photo)

Ruecker confirmed the photo was that of Lubitz.

The page, which was wiped from Facebook sometime in the past two days, said Lubitz was from Montabaur. It also lists him as having several aviation-themed interests, including the A320 - the model of plane that crashed Tuesday, Lufthansa, the German aviation company, and Phoenix Goodyear Airport, in Arizona.

The defunct Facebook page also included a link to a result in the 2011 Lufthansa half marathon in Frankfurt, where a runner with the nickname "flying andy" ran a 1 hour, 48 minutes, 51 seconds.

French prosecutor Robin said Lubitz was "not known by us" to have links to terrorism or extremists, and that German authorities are expected to provide additional information on his background and private life later Thursday or Friday.

Recordings suggested passengers' screams began just before the final impact, he said.

Earlier, a German state prosecutor had said that just one of the two pilots of the Germanwings airliner was in the cockpit at the time it went down.

The statements came after the New York Times reported that "black box" recordings showed one of the pilots had left the cockpit and could not get back in before the plane crashed.

Robin said the commander of the plane knocked several times "without response." He said the door could only be blocked manually.

"The most plausible, the most probably, is that the co-pilot voluntarily refused to open the door of the cockpit for the captain and pressed the button for the descent."

Video: Co-pilot intentionally crashed the flight, says prosecutor

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