Germanwings: Prosecutor critical of media drive for news

Taskforce of 100 compiling information on Germanwings first-officer Andreas Lubitz

A week after flight 9525 crashed in the French alps, killing all 150 people on board, German investigators have hit out at media pressure to deliver news where there is none.

The complex inquiry into the disaster continues on two fronts. Crash scene investigators in France hope to have positive DNA identification of all victims within the week.

In Düsseldorf, meanwhile, a 100-strong taskforce is compiling information about Germanwings first-officer Andreas Lubitz who was alone in the cockpit at impact.

At about 2pm on Monday the story took a meta turn when the Düsseldorf public prosecutor spokesman gave a public statement that there would be no public statement.


"Somehow the idea that there would be a statement took hold in the media, but there isn't one," said a hassled Christoph Kumpa. With nothing new to say about the case, he launched into a tirade about the endless stream of media phone calls – all day, all night, all weekend – that were pushing his office to its limits and even preventing him reaching investigators who might actually have news.

One journalist was so annoyed by the permanently engaged press office line, Mr Kumpa said, “that he had the cheek to call my father and tell him to please pass over the receiver to me”.

“If that happens again, I will delight in naming that person before the world’s media,” he said.

Motive elusive

An hour later, Kumpa emerged again, this time with a statement that interviews with family, friends and work colleagues of Lubitz had found no motive for last week’s crash.

Despite various reports of retina problems, investigators found no evidence in the Lubitz medical records of any physical illness.

His medical files did confirm that Lubitz had been in psychotherapy for suicidal tendencies before he finished his pilot training in 2013. “In the subsequent period, right up to when he took the plane [on Tuesday], there were several other doctor’s visits and we found evidence that these doctors attested him to be unable to fly,” Mr Kumpa continued from a statement, “but these documents don’t show any hint of being suicidal or being aggressive towards other people.”

For anyone planning to follow up his statement with a volley of phone calls, the spokesman warned: “Please understand that the public prosecutor cannot and will not participate in speculation about the motive of the dead co-pilot. The investigating authorities are obliged to stick to the facts alone.”

French deductions

It was a clear dig at the French investigating magistrate who, less than 24 hours after the crash, held a dramatic press conference based on his initial analysis of flight 9525’s voice recorder.

Then as now the doomed plane’s most crucial information – the flight data recorder – is missing.

Yet German investigators are still fuming that – based on an audio recording and, as they see it, a lot of speculation – the French magistrate delivered an open-and-shut verdict to sate the media’s appetite.

As that hunger returns, a backlash has begun in Germany. In Lubitz's home town of Montabaur, locals are on interview strike after coverage they say was insensitive to the relatives of the dead and towards the Lubitz family.

Students at the Joseph König school in Haltern, from which 18 victims hailed, have described their brush with the media last week as “comparable to exotic animals and curious visitors” in a zoo.

In a blog, pupil Mika Baumeister wrote of how one journalist donned a grief counsellor vest to mingle with students. Another journalist hid a smart phone underneath a wreath – recording video – "to get exclusive pictures".

“I don’t think one has to say anything further,” wrote Baumeister. “It’s just sad.”

Media circus

It’s also not new. The first media circus of the modern age came exactly 90 years ago when explorer

Floyd Collins

became trapped in an underground cave in central


. After several failed rescue attempts, during which news-parched journalists made up their news, the only real news happened two weeks later when Collins died.

Some 20 years after Monica Lewinsky had a brief fling with US president Bill Clinton, prompting another notorious media circus, the former White House intern warned this month that "public shaming as a blood sport has to stop".

The blood sport, of which she was the first victim, was the shattering of news cycles thanks to internet-driven reporting and endless news feeds.

There is no longer 24 hours to check facts. Not even an hour. In the attention-deficit Twitter age, the hoary news channel cliche – “we’re getting reports in” – is now a health warning on all media outlets: “We’ve no idea if this is true but have no time or resources to check, so here it is anyway.”

A week on from the end of flight 9525, German investigators have joined a growing chorus of pilots and mental health professionals in condemning the rush to judge.

Put in today’s media parlance we’re getting reports in: life’s joys and tragedies are not a live feed.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin