French investigators find Germanwings data recorder

Co-pilot Lubitz may have researched cockpit security measures and suicide

French investigators are examining the flight data recorder of Germanwings flight 9525 recovered yesterday amid claims that its co-pilot searched the internet before last week's crash for information on suicide and cockpit door security.

Some 10 days after the German plane crashed in the French alps, killing all 150 people on board, French investigators hope that instrument readings will fill in crucial blanks about the last minutes of the doomed plane – and its co-pilot Andreas Lubitz.

As French investigators informed the media about their find, German prosecutors say data recovered from the tablet computer of the co-pilot suggested he was planning to kill himself.

In the week before the March 23rd crash, the tablet’s internet browser history recorded searches for “medical treatment methods as well as methods of suicide”.


“At least once a day, for several minutes, the [user] engaged with search terms for cockpit doors and their security measures,” said the statement from the public prosecutor in Düsseldorf.

Search terms

The prosecutor’s office said it would not make individual search terms public and that it would take several days to trawl through the data left on the tablet.

French prosecutors, too, will require several days before they can present preliminary details gleaned from the data recorder.

Based on their investigations to date, in particular drawing on the voice recorder, they believe Mr Lubitz locked the captain out of the cockpit and crashed the plane into a cliff face at 800km per hour.

The force of the impact catapulted the data recorder from its protective casing, but French investigators are optimistic the data chip was still usable.

Marseilles public prosecutor Brice Robin said that the recorder could yield 500 types of information including plane speed, altitude, engines and pilot actions.

“For us they are essential information to establish the truth,” said Mr Robin.

According to the Bild tabloid, Mr Lubitz complained of peripheral-vision problems at the time of the crash and was taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication.

In his medical records, reportedly seen by the tabloid, Mr Lubitz told doctors an airbag had inflated in his face during a road incident at the end of 2014, causing trauma to his face and vision problems.

On several doctor visits, during which the pilot reportedly claimed he was off sick from work, he underwent an MRI scan which turned up nothing. As well as anti-depression pills Mr Lubitz was reportedly taking the tranquilliser Lorazepam, used for the short-term treatment of anxiety and insomnia.

In some cases, Lorazepam may have a paradoxical effect and cause hostility and agitation, reduce inhibitions and increase danger of suicide in at-risk patients unless taken in conjunction with an anti-depressant.

Until now his employer Germanwings, and its parent company Lufthansa, have insisted Mr Lubitz's depressive period was confined to 2009 when he interrupted his flight training.

Investigators who raided his Düsseldorf flat last week found unspecified medication and torn-up sick notes including for the day of the crash, March 24th.

Key factor

In the wake of last week’s crash, French and German flight-safety authorities may abolish the obligation for armoured cockpit doors. They believe the reinforced doors, introduced after the September 11th attacks, were a key factor in preventing the Germanwings captain regaining access to the cockpit.

Germany’s interior minister Thomas de Maizière has suggested stepping up security on flights inside the passport-free Schengen. At the moment German passengers who have cleared airport security need only present their ticket – not their ID – to board a plane. In the case of flight 9525 investigators say this complicated the search for victims.

"In my view we have to know, for security reasons, who is actually on board a plane," said Mr de Maizière to Bild.

Meanwhile, controversy is growing after reports by Bild and Paris Match magazine of a video showing the purported last moments of flight 9525.

On Wednesday the two publications claimed to have seen a video they said was recorded from the back of the plane showing panic, with the sound of metallic banging, and people screaming “My God” in various languages. French prosecutors believe the video is a hoax.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin