As the Lubitz thing sounds increasingly conclusive, the evidence behind the conclusion looks increasingly flakey.
His girlfriend says he was planning something massive by which he’d be remembered. But she isn’t identified, her name ‘Maria’ is a not her real one….and the story’s in Bild. “It didn’t make much sense at the time, but now it does” she claims. Her boyfriend was a pilot and planning something horrific…but it didn’t make sense? Well, right then. But hold this thought: she told Bild, “He would wake in the night screaming ‘we’re going down, we’re going down’”.
The sick note looks odder and odder. While the German prosecutor followed his French colleague by mouthing off to the media yesterday about Lubitz “hiding his depression from his employer and colleagues”, the Dusseldorf Polizei contradicted their employer by refusing to say what the sick notes were about (or why Andreas had been to a hospital) but that they were “nothing to do with the decision [Lubitz] took”. Well if they aren’t germaine to the case, then why not tell us what they were for?
The Wall Street Journal takes a leap and asserts that the sick notes were from a psychiatrist; but the source is ‘a person familiar with the investigation’, which means it could be the A320’s designer, or Leutnant Schmidt from the Bremen vice squad. In the same piece, the Journal says ‘another person familiar with the investigation’ thinks Andreas didn’t have a terminal illness, while the Daily Mail says the notes were from doctors not psychiatrists, and although he was teased about being a gay former-steward, he shared his flat with the girlfriend who two days ago was a boyfriend, and if it was the girlfriend with whom he’d split up, why was she still at the flat?
A senior Lufthansa Director meanwhile says Lubitz had “slipped through the net with devastating consequences” – an odd thing to say for two reasons. First, all his co-workers said he was “happy and enjoying his career”; and second, the Director just landed Lufhansa squarely in the Dock to face 149 suits for causing the death of loved ones by negligence.
I’m trying to retain a balance here, but the sheer weight of contradictory information makes it almost a full-time job. This sort of thing often surrounds “media management” these days when very fat men in large boardrooms have things to hide. I still believe that by far the most likely solution is that Lubitz had lost his mental balance (it now seems he was taking medication, but we don’t know what for) and had made up his mind that the minute his colleague slipped out for a pee, he’d do the deed. But exactly why? And what deed?
I suspect what’s required here, for the time being, is to examine some of the motives behind the announcements:
1. Airbus is primarily a Franco-German-Spanish co-production. This might help explain the early appearance of the French, German and Spanish leaders at the scene. Its exports make a massive contribution to the eurozone economy, and it employs some 58,000 people. Significantly, Airbus pioneered fly-by-wire on its A320, and the A380 is the largest fbw aircraft in the world. Fbw basically means replacing the conventional manual flight controls of an aircraft with an electronic interface. In the light of this week’s disaster – and the 320 family’s history of controlled flight into terrain (see yesterday’s Slogpost) – this might explain why aircraft manufacturers – and airlines who bought large fleets off them – would rather face 149 lawsuits than doubts about the fbw auto systems that are now wired into Airbus planes’ DNA.
2. The rush to blame Lubitz is equalled only by the unwillingness to take into account the obvious motives for blaming pilot error. In December 1997, a Silk Air Boeing 737 flying from Jakarta, Indonesia, to Singapore suddenly dived vertically for more than 30,000 feet into a river and 97 people were killed. America’ National Transportation Safety Board investigated, concluding that the crash resulted from deliberate action by one of the pilots. The Indonesian Transportation Safety Committee said the evidence was inconclusive, and a private legal action in California tried to reverse the NTSB’s ruling – claiming that a mechanical flaw, inherent in the 737’s design, had caused the crash.
The crash of EgyptAir Flight 990 in October 1999 on a flight from New York to Cairo neared its desired cruise level, but then inexplicably dived vertically into the Atlantic near Nantucket Island, killing 217 people. The NTSB determined that the Egyptian captain had deliberately pointed the nose down and killed everyone on board. The NTSB’s verdict was disputed by the Egyptians, who also blamed a design flaw had been responsible.
In perhaps the most infamous case of all, the 1958 Munich air disaster that killed nine Manchester United players was persistently blamed on Captain Thain, a man later proven posthumously to be entirely innocent. The owners of Munich Airport had been clearly negligent in sweeping ice from the runway, but lied throughout five enquiries until eventually the evidence came to light.
3. Why would Andreas Lubitz – a man for whom flying had been everything since the age of seven – have nightmares about “going down”…unless he thought there was something wrong with the 320 series fbw system? And why – if his sole intent was the world’s most selfish suicide – would the radar track show he tried to level out towards the end of the dive? Far from trying to kill himself, was he trying to demonstrate something?
Without repeating myself too much, I think he meant to do what he did, but the why part remains a puzzle. The police, Luthansa and the Sovereign authorities have made strenuous efforts to be judge, jury and executioner in this case, laying the blame on depression and deceit by Andreas Lubitz. But they do seem somewhat vague when the questions get more probing. The greater likelihood is that the co-pilot coup de foudre verdict will emerge as the most likely: but the evidence is far from conclusive. Were I a young newshound on this one, I’d be asking whether Herr Lubitz had raised any doubt about the A320 fbw systems. On the outside possibility that he might have been a whistleblower, not a murderous suicide.