SEYNE-LES-ALPES, FRANCE // The co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings flight appears to have “deliberately” crashed the plane into the French Alps after locking his captain out of the cockpit.
Lead prosecutor Brice Robin said on Thursday German Andreas Lubitz “deliberately” initiated the descent of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 while alone at the controls.
Officials do not believe it was part of a terrorist plot.
Lubitz, 28, appeared to “show a desire to want to destroy” the plane, Mr Robin said based on his initial findings on recordings made by the Airbus’ cockpit flight recorder in the final minutes before the crash.
Mr Robin said the passengers died “instantly” and probably were not aware until the “very last moment” of the impending disaster. All 150 passengers and crew on board were killed.
“The screams are heard only in the last moments before the impact,” said the prosecutor.
“The co-pilot was alone at the controls,” he said. “He ... refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot.”
The pilot, believed to have gone to the toilet, made increasingly furious attempts to re-enter the cockpit, banging on the door, the recordings show.
There was no immediate clue as to the motive of the co-pilot, but investigators appeared to rule out terrorism.
“At this moment, there is no indication that this is an act of terrorism,” Mr Robin said, adding that Lubitz had no known terrorist connection.
Germany’s interior minister echoed this, saying there was so far no indication of “a terrorist background”.
However, Mr Robin also said he was unwilling to use the word “suicide” and could not guess at Lubitz’s motive.
“Usually when you commit suicide, you do it alone. When you’re responsible for 150 people, I don’t call that a suicide,” he said.
The co-pilot, who deliberately set the controls “to accelerate the plane’s descent” into the side of a mountain in a region famous for its ski resorts “was conscious until the moment of impact”, Mr Robin said.
“This action can only be deliberate. It would be impossible to turn the button by mistake. If you passed out and leaned over on it, it would only go a quarter-turn and do nothing,” he stressed.
“He didn’t reply to a thing. He didn’t say a word. In the cockpit, it was utter silence.”
Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said he was “stunned” by the revelations and had “no indication” on the motives of Lubitz.
He added that no security “system in the world” could have prevented the co-pilot’s actions.
Mr Spohr said Lubitz had passed all psychological tests required for training and underwent regular physical examinations.
The shocking new information was released as families and friends of victims were travelling to the remote mountainous crash site area, where locals have opened their doors in a show of solidarity with the grieving relatives.
Two planes arrived in southern France on Thursday from Barcelona and Duesseldorf with families and friends.
Tents were set up for them near the crash site area to give DNA samples to start the process of identifying the bodies of loved ones, at least 51 of whom were Spaniards and at least 75 Germans.
“We’re all pitching in of course. There’s no such thing as nationality, no such thing as religion,” said one local volunteer, Charles Lanta.
Meanwhile, the remains of victims, found scattered across the scree-covered slopes, were being taken by helicopter to nearby Seyne-les-Alpes, a source close to the investigation said.
A mountain guide who got near the crash site said he was unable to make out recognisable body parts.
“It’s incredible. An Airbus is enormous. When you arrive and there’s nothing there ... it’s very shocking,” said the guide, who did not wish to be identified.
The crash site, which is situated at about 1,500 metres altitude, is accessible only by helicopter or an arduous hike on foot.
French president Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew over the site to see the devastation for themselves on Wednesday. Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy also visited a crisis centre near the scene. Mr Rajoy said he was “deeply shaken” by the prosecutor’s findings.
It was the deadliest air crash on the French mainland since 1974 when a Turkish Airlines plane crashed, killing 346 people.
Lufthansa said the aircraft was carrying citizens of 18 countries. Three Americans and three Britons were confirmed among the victims.
Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Holland, Israel, Japan, Mexico and Morocco also had nationals on board.
Those killed on the flight included two babies and 16 German school exchange pupils. They were flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.
A second black box, which records flight data, has not yet been recovered.
* Agence France-Presse