BERLIN — The sounds recorded on one of the “black boxes” recovered from downed Germanwings Flight 9525 firms up investigators’ theory that the co-pilot locked the captain out of the cockpit and then crashed the plane.
“For God’s sake, open the door!” Capt. Patrick Sondenheimer screamed as he banged on the cockpit door, pleading with the co-pilot.
Thirteen minutes later, the plane slammed into the French Alps.
The audio from the plane’s cockpit voice recorder has not been released, but the German newspaper Bild published Sunday what it claims is a summary of the transcript from the recording.
France’s accident investigation agency, BEA, said that the agency is “dismayed” by the voice recording leak to Bild.
Martine Del Bono, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the leak could not have come from a BEA agent. She said the agency considers the report mere “voyeurism.”
According to Bild’s report, Sondenheimer told co-pilot Andreas Lubitz that he didn’t manage to go to the bathroom before takeoff. Lubitz tells him he can go anytime.
Lubitz is believed to have locked the pilot of Flight 9525 out of the cockpit before putting the plane on a rapid descent into the mountains, French authorities have said.
The flight took off 20 minutes late. After reaching cruising altitude, Sondenheimer asked Lubitz to prepare the landing.
Once that’s finished, Lubitz again tells the captain he “can go anytime.”
There is the sound of a seat being pushed backward after which the captain says, “You can take over.”
At 10:29 a.m., air traffic radar detects that the plane is starting to descend.
Three minutes later, air traffic controllers try to contact the plane and receive no answer — shortly after which an alarm goes off in the cockpit, warning of the “sink rate,” Bild reported.
Next comes the banging.
Sondenheimer begs Lubitz to let him in. Passengers then begin to scream, according to the transcript obtained by Bild.
Another three minutes pass. A loud metallic bang is heard at 7,000 meters (almost 23,000 feet).
A minute and half later and 2,000 meters (about 6,500 feet) lower to the ground, an alarm says “Terrain — pull up!”
“Open the damn door!” the pilot says.
It’s 10:38, and the plane is at 4,000 meters (about 13,000 feet). Lubitz’s breathing can still be heard on the voice recorder, according to Bild’s report.
Two minutes later, investigators think they hear the plane’s right wing scrape a mountaintop.
Screams can be heard one final time.
Cockpit recordings are some of the most sensitive and closely held parts of aviation crash investigations. They’re never officially released, according to aviation reporter Richard Quest.
Quest called it “unbelievable” that the black box audio would be leaked in this manner.
Communications between air traffic control and a plane’s cockpit can be downloaded privately, but that’s less common in Europe than it is in the United States.
An edited and redacted version of the transcript is usually published in part of a final report on an incident.
Although search teams have recovered the cockpit voice recorder, the flight data recorder remains missing. That device could reveal crucial details about what happened during the final moments of the flight.
What authorities know
Jean Pierre Michel, lead investigator for the French inquiry, said on Saturday that investigators are not ruling out any scenario with respect to the crash out at this point.
But French authorities have said that Lubitz appeared to have crashed Germanwings Flight 9525 deliberately into the Alps on Tuesday as it flew from Barcelona, Spain, toward Dusseldorf, Germany, with 150 people on board.
Much attention has focused on Lubitz’s state of mind since then, with suggestions that he may have had mental health issues.
Lubitz, 27, passed his annual pilot recertification medical examination in summer 2014, a German aviation source said.
An official with Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, said that the exam only tests physical health, not psychological health.
The official also said that the company was never given any indication Lubitz was depressed, and that if he went to a doctor on his own, he would have been required to self-report if deemed unfit to fly.
A Dusseldorf clinic said he’d gone there twice, most recently on March 10, “concerning a diagnosis.” But the University Clinic said it had not treated Lubitz for depression.
The speculation about Lubitz’ mental state is based on a letter found in a waste bin in his Dusseldorf apartment.
The note, which was “slashed,” said Lubitz was not able to do his job, city prosecutor Christoph Kumpa said Friday.
The fact that investigators found “ripped, recent medical leave notes, including for the day of the offense, leads to the preliminary conclusion that the deceased kept his illness secret from his employer and his professional environment,” prosecutors said.
Germanwings corroborated that assertion, saying it had never received a sick note from Lubitz.
Anxiety, burnout and depression
A handful of publications, citing unnamed sources, have reported that Lubitz suffered from various psychological maladies.
Lubitz suffered from “generalized anxiety disorder,” and from severe depression in the past, Le Parisien newspaper reported Sunday, citing sources close to the investigation. In 2010, Lubitz received injections of antipsychotic medication, the paper said.
He was also prescribed a medication that influences neurotransmitters, but it’s unclear when that happened, according to Le Parisien.
The newspaper said investigators found a handful of pills in his apartment in addition to two sick notes, which forbade him from working from March 16 to March 29.
The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported Friday that Lubitz suffered from mental illness and kept his diagnosis concealed from his employer.
A subsequent report from the Times on Saturday, citing two officials with knowledge of the investigation, said Lubitz sought treatment before the crash for vision problems that might have put his career at risk. However, an official with Lufthansa, said that if Lubitz had vision problems, they would have been discovered during his pilot recertification medical examination.
Authorities have not ruled out the vision problems could have been psychosomatic, according to the Times.
Citing an unidentified senior investigator, German newspaper Die Welt said that Lubitz suffered from a severe “psychosomatic illness” and that German police seized prescription drugs that treat the condition. Lubitz suffered from a “severe subjective burnout syndrome” and from severe depression, the source told the newspaper.
News reports also stated that antidepressants were found during the search of his apartment.
Investigators are expected to question his relatives, friends and co-workers as they try to pin down what could have prompted the co-pilot to steer a jetliner full of people into a mountainside.
Lubitz had a girlfriend, a teacher at a school in Dusseldorf not far from his apartment, according to German media.
‘This is a man whose life is totally broken’
Dozens of people attended a remembrance ceremony Saturday for the victims of the crash at a church in a nearby town, Digne-les-Bains, France. Most of the people on the plane were from Germany and Spain.
Relatives of the victims and local residents also gathered Saturday afternoon by a simple stone memorial set up near the crash site, in the village of Le Vernet. Flowers have been laid there, in the shadow of the snow-covered peaks of the French Alps.
The mayor of one local community said he had seen Lubitz’s father on Thursday evening, describing him as “a man in deep distress.”
“We get the impression that that man is bearing the whole weight of the disaster on his shoulders,” Bernard Bartolini, the mayor of Prads-Haute-Bleone, said Saturday.
“I can tell that this is a man whose life is totally broken,” Bartolini said. “He had so much emotion in him.”AlertMe