The Germanwings Disaster

From Network News to the New Yorker, the Conversation Spins Out of Control

UPDATE: March 30, 2015

NOT TO DETRACT FROM the raw horror of the Germanwings disaster, but the crash has spawned a sideshow of ill-informed and just plain aggravating conversations, across the whole spectrum of the media, that somebody needs to address. Whether it’s on the human factors side of things (i.e. pilots and mental health), or on the technical part of flying, much of the talk is misleading. As if air travel weren’t misunderstood enough already; careless commentary is only making it worse.

For starters, the crash has touched off a good deal of talk about automation and a pilot’s role in the cockpit. Several major newspapers, CNN, and other outlets have recently published stories on the emergence of remotely piloted aircraft. One easy solution to the problem of pilot sabotage is to get rid of the pilot altogether. And why not? After all, planes can pretty much fly themselves already, right?

Except, of course, they can’t. For more on this, please see my recent op-ed piece published in the New York Times.

Then we have Miles O’Brien, writing for Says Mr. O’Brien: “Flight 9525 offers yet another example of how the layers of safety in aviation have been peeled away since deregulation 35 years ago.” Never mind that the Deregulation Act was passed in America, not in Germany. On both continents flying is much, much safer than it was 35 years ago. The number of aircraft in the sky has tripled, while the fatality rate per miles flown has plummeted. Go back some time and look at the accident records from the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s. The past ten years have been the safest, statistically, in the history of modern civil aviation, and there hasn’t been a large-scale crash involving a major U.S. passenger carrier in fourteen years — the longest such streak ever. How does that square with layers of safety supposedly being peeled away? Have we just been lucky?

He’s right, though, about the comparatively low experience level of the Germanwings first officer. Andreas Lubitz had only about 600 total flight hours. In the U.S., the typical civilian pilot new-hire at a major carrier has upwards of 7,000 hours and often several years of prior airline experience. Lubitz was a so-called ab initio pilot, one of select few pilots groomed from the start by Germanwings’ parent, Lufthansa, with little or no prior experience. Ab initio pilots generally graduate into jetliners with far fewer hours than those who come up the ranks via the traditional methods. It’s true that logbook totals aren’t necessarily a good indicator of skill or competence, and there’s nothing easy about ab initio programs, but there are certain intangibles that a pilot of that experience level simply doesn’t have. Thus O’Brien brings up an compelling point — though it’s one that probably means nothing in the context of the crash.

O’Brien is also says there is “no psychological component” to a pilot’s twice-yearly FAA physical. Technically that’s not correct. It’s a minor component, but if you read the FAA Examiner guidelines and the criteria for certification, it’s there. As for the stigma that he implies pilots face when admitting mental health issues, maybe that was a problem at one time, but most airlines today are highly accommodating to any workers grappling with such problems.

Next we have the whole “pilot” and “copilot” thing, which has gotten out of hand. I was letting it go in deference to the more serious and tragic aspects of this crash, but my patience has expired. People: there are two pilots in the cockpit, the captain and the first officer. The latter is also known as the copilot. Copilots are not apprentices; they take off, land, and otherwise fly the airplane just as much as captains do. Sometimes, even, they are senior to and more experienced than the captain. They do not, as the BBC described it a few days ago, “steer the plane during the pilot’s breaks, or if he or she became ill.” That a line like that made it into print ought to be really, really embarrassing for an organization as respected as the BBC. And as a copilot myself, it offends me. Please see this discussion for more.

Maybe the most frustrating result of the disaster, though, is knowing that people around the world are getting on airplanes today and wondering, if only idly, if their pilots are pilots are potential mass-murderers. The nightmare of flight 9525 notwithstanding (and again we’re assuming Lubitz is guilty), what happened in France was a freak event. No, this wouldn’t be the first instance of pilot murder-suicide, but such acts have been, and will remain, exceptionally rare.

In closing I’ll repeat what I said the other day: Any pilot, like any professional in any industry, takes an element of his or her personal life to work, and all pilots at some point deal with stress and crisis. There is simply no way around that. But in all but the rarest cases a pilot under stress is not an unsafe pilot, never mind a suicidal killer. We can, in the meantime, debate the merits of additional psychological testing, but at a certain point there’s nothing more we can do, and we’re forced to rely on a set of presumptions — it comes down to trust, if you will. As a pilot I do not come to work wondering if one of my colleagues is going to kill me. Neither should I be expected to. And passengers shouldn’t either. On the contrary. I don’t want this to sound like an airline commercial or an FAA press release, but you can confidently presume that the people flying your plane are exactly what you expect them to be: well-trained professionals for whom safety is their first and foremost priority.


UPDATE: March 26, 2015

I’M NOT SURE WHAT TO SAY. For pilots, that a colleague may have intentionally crashed his plane and killed everybody on board, is not only horrific but embarrassing, offensive, and potentially stigmatizing to the entire profession.

This would not the first instance of a crewmember committing a murderous act. In 1994, an off-duty FedEx pilot, riding along in a cockpit jumpseat, attacked the crew of a DC-10 freighter with a hammer and spear gun. A PSA jet once crashed after a disgruntled employee shot both pilots. And most notorious of all, a suicidal first officer brought down EgyptAir flight 990 flying from New York to Cairo in 1999.

I worry now that every time a plane goes down and the reason is not immediately obvious, people will begin proposing suicide as a possible cause. Try to remember that even if we include the SilkAir crash or the or unsolved MH370 disaster, acts of crewmember sabotage account for a tiny number of incidents over many decades. If indeed the Germanwings first officer crashed his plane, that’s tragic and unforgivable. But it was, for lack of a better description, a freak event, something highly unusual. Hopefully the traveling public realizes that the rest of the tens of thousands of airline pilots out there take their profession, and your safety, as seriously as they possibly can.

People will be asking: how many pilots out there are ready to crack? Is the mental health of pilots being evaluated properly by airlines and government regulators?

In the U.S., airline pilots undergo medical evaluations either yearly or twice-yearly. A medical certificate must be issued by an FAA-certified physician. The checkup is not a psychological checkup per se, but the FAA doctor evaluates a pilot on numerous criteria, up to and including his or her mental health. Pilots can be grounded for any of hundreds of reasons, from heart trouble or diabetes to, yes, depression and anxiety. It can and does happen. In addition, new-hire pilots at some airlines must undergo psychological examinations prior to being hired. On top of that, we are subject to random testing for narcotics and alcohol.

As for the stresses of the job, it’s no different from any other line of work. People are people, and there’s always some element of one’s personal life that is brought to work. Sometimes pilots are dealing with one or another problem or stress issue. That does not mean the pilot is unsafe, or is going to crash the plane. Most airlines, meanwhile, are pretty proactive and accommodating when it comes to employees with personal or mental health problems.

I’m uncertain what more we should want or expect. Pilots are human beings, and no profession is bulletproof against every human weakness. All the medical testing in the world isn’t going to preclude every potential breakdown or malicious act. For passengers, at a certain point there needs to be the presumption that the men and women in control of your airplane are exactly the highly skilled professionals you expect them to be, and not killers in waiting.


March 26, 2015

SOME preliminary thoughts, comments, and cautionaries on the Germanwings A320 crash in France, drawn from some of the points being made by the media:


— The descent

Reportedly the plane descended 31,000 feet in eight minutes before impacting the mountains. Some news sources are citing this as an unusually high rate. In truth a roughly four thousand foot-per-minute descent is not particularly steep, and would imply the crew was still in control of the aircraft, and that it was not “plummeting” or “diving,” as reporters have described it, as a result of some catastrophic structural failure.

People are talking a lot about the possibility of a decompression (loss of cabin pressure), but a simple decompression by itself is not likely to be the culprit. So long as they aren’t explosive, decompressions are rarely dangerous. That’s true even when flying over mountains. Crews will pre-program so-called “escape routes” into a plane’s flight management system that will help navigate them away from high terrain in the event a rapid descent is required.

One person I spoke to raised the possibility that the crew, after initiating what was a more or less stable descent rate, became unconscious somehow as the plane descended, maybe as a result of not donning their oxygen masks quickly enough after a decompression. Pure speculation there, but it’s possible (as are a hundred other things). It’s clear that at some point the crew either lost control, became disoriented, or were incapacitated. We don’t know how.


— The missing mayday

One supposed expert on NBC voiced that it was “highly unusual” that the pilots did not send a distress call. The opposite is true. Distress calls are not sent in a majority of accidents, and communicating with air traffic control is well down the task hierarchy when dealing with an emergency. The crew’s primary concern, it should go without saying, is controlling the aircraft, followed by troubleshooting whatever problems have caused the situation. Later, if time and conditions permit, ATC can be brought into the loop. There’s an old aviation maxim that says: aviate, navigate, communicate. Communicate, you’ll notice, is number three on that list. Eight minutes might seem a long time, but who knows what level of urgency they were dealing with.


— Hack job?

This again: the theory that the plane’s “flight computer,” whatever that is, exactly, was maliciously hacked by parties unknown. People are so enamored of electronic gadgetry these days, and so vastly ill-informed as to how airplanes actually fly, and how pilots interact with all of the alleged computerization in a modern cockpit, that this bizarre theory is given undue credibility — thrown around to help fill in the empty spaces.


— Crash cluster?

It would seem, to some, that the number of plane crashes over the past several months has skyrocketed. But although, from a safety perspective, it hasn’t been the best twelve-month stretch, you need to look at things in the larger context: The accident rate is still down, considerably, from what it was twenty or thirty years ago, when multiple large-scale accidents were the norm, year after year. What’s different is that, in years past, we didn’t have a 24/7 news cycle with media outlets spread across multiple platforms, all vying simultaneously for your attention. The media didn’t used to fixate on crashes the way it does today. These fixations tend to be short-lived, but they are intense enough to give people the impression that flying is becoming more dangerous, when in fact it has become safer.

I frequently remind people of the year 1985, when 27 serious accidents killed upwards of 2,500 people. That includes two of history’s ten deadliest crashes occurring within two months of each other. Imagine the circus if such a thing happened today. The past decade has been the safest in civil aviation history, and the cluster of serious accidents over the last year, tragic as they’ve been, is unlikely to change the overall trend.


Patrick Smith is the author of Cockpit Confidential


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424 Responses to “The Germanwings Disaster”
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  1. Arun s says:

    From what I can recall the Germanwings (Lufthansa) copilot or first officer was Anreas Lubitz. Isn’t he the one that took over the controls when the Captain (pilot) left the cockpit cabin for a brief period? I remember also how the Pilot
    desperately attempted to get Lubitz to unlock the door when the plane began to rapidly descend.
    Those last moments that led to the horrifying crash makes your blood boil while you cringe at the same time at the very thought of contemplated suicide. You’re left to wonder if that was the copilot’s original intent or if in fact it was a spur of the moment thing, when opportunity presented itself.
    Either way it’s pretty gruesome and sad, to say the least. All those innocent people’s lives snuffed out in a flash.
    How does anyone living the nightmare pick up the pieces and go on with their lives? It’s ridiculous that life has no meaning when that type of tragedy doesn’t just occur, but is actually caused by another.
    Yes, I think it’s a good idea to have a third officer in the cockpit who perhaps can foil such an attempt.

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  3. Phil Cartier says:

    “while the fatality rate per miles flown has plummeted” When a plane takes off how far it flies does not matter as much as if it lands safely. The appropriate statistic is fatalities per takeoff, no passenger miles, seat miles, or flight miles.

    This is a persistent misrepresentation. It’s time to change

    Otherwise a very good article.

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  5. sam says:

    There was no missing mayday! a mayday was received at barcelonette!!
    Major cover up for bitch- slapping/ merkel, hollande and spain!
    one has to say there were so many reasons but Copilot in my opinion is totally innocent

  6. Stephen R. Stapleton says:

    Seriously, “Miles O’Brien”? Was he married to Keiko? Given his experience on both the Enterprise and Deep Space Nine, I think we should listen to the man on the future of aviation.

  7. MIchel says:

    The latest official news from the Finnish CAA: both pilots were unconscious

    So, where do the wild west stories come from, which were all unanimously relayed by all western press ?
    Do we still have a press or only propaganda. No bad word about the pilots any more. Understand ?

  8. Samda says:

    The Aviation world association, if doesn’t exist than it has to be created, needs to have rule that all physiatrist has to find out where and what their patient are doing for living before they start with the treatment. Of course that someone like co-pilot Lubitz (I just can’t put Mr.) who was depressed and under medication won’t say to his company’s doctors that he has some issues with his brain and that he is ill. Or the company’s doctors have to research every pilot’s medical documents, history that has to be in the system of every existing farmacy or hospital. Also EU has to change rule that no matter what happens, one crew member can’t be left alone in the cockpit during the flight. I jist can’t beleive that because of mental sickness of one of the pilot 151 persons died…that is just not exceptable.

  9. Aguila1952 says:

    I have to admit to not knowing much about the airline industry other than having been a business traveler working in the computer business. But my “sixth sense” wants to know why highly computerized planes would simply allow the plane, with no other anomolies present, to simply auger itself into a mountainside? Why aren’t there safety measures to level the plane at a safe level knowing that it is no where near its intended destination? Why cannot it not be protected from override into a hazardous situation without being corrected automatically? And then with satellite or other communications, a mayday message be sent out.

    It seems to me that a knee-jerk reaction to make it required to have two people on the flight deck at all times, regardless of who they are or their training, is pointless if they are not really in a position to do anything in the event of an emergency. A flight attendant babysitting a co-pilot? Get real.

    Also, in any sane business, you don’t sacrifice safety to save a buck but that is what is happening all over. Why is there even a pilots union if they are so poorly paid and forced into such a stressful work environment? Everyone laments their loss of in-flight snacks, and other little perks but the airlines keep cutting costs. Are people so cheap and careless with their lives that they really only care about the lowest cost carrier? How much additional ticket price are we talking about? I don’t think that would really reduce air travel.

    • Patrick says:

      I keep getting asked this question, in slightly different variations. Disregarding for a moment the common fallacy that planes are “highly computerized” (in fact they are not, at least in the sense that people think), the problem, essentially, is that the criteria for determining an unsafe or potentially catastrophic maneuver is extremely subjective. And the big danger, of course, would be a situation where the airplane is refusing to do something you need it to do, because it wrongly interprets your commands.

      In any case, all right, so you can maybe engineer a way to keep the plane from hitting a mountain. Okay, but then what? What speed does it fly? What altitude? What direction? What configuration? What now? What next? There are still a million ways in which a crew member could destroy the plane if he or she is intent on doing so.

      People want to believe there’s a simple technological fix to every conceivable problem, and that simply isn’t the case.

    • Siegfried says:

      Especially Airbus planes have various computer measures, that are made to prevent pilots from executing an unsafe maneuver. Unfortunately this has proven to cause problems in the past, too. Mostly due to sensor errors. In at least one case that I know of (LH1829) the computer would have crashed the plane and the pilots “saved the day” by shutting it down and flying manually. But of course this was not a disaster so it’s not all over the news.

      As long as I am sitting in a plane, I want someone sitting front left to be the ultimate person in command, not a computer, not someone sitting safe warm and dry on the ground or any other entity. And if it needs two such persons (or a flight attendant babysitting a pilot) then so be it.

      • Richard says:

        QF72 was another example where the plane started diving because of faulty information from sensors (the computers believed the plane had suddenly gone nose-up, and tried to level out). The pilots stopped the dive immediately, and ultimately turned off “the auto pilot” when it started to do the same thing again. They didn’t do anything particularly amazing or anything, but they needed to be there or the plane may well have continued straight towards the ground.

        Now what would happen in that situation if there was protection against the plane hitting the ground? The plane would think it was flying level, yet would also think it was flying too low and getting closer to the ground. How does that situation get resolved without a pilot?

  10. Rod says:


    They end by mentioning a questionnaire filled out by members of Germany’s pilots’ union. Of the respondents, 93% stated that they had made mistakes on the flight deck owing to fatigue. They quoted the union’s president as saying it wasn’t a question of whether a crash would occur because the crew was tired. It was a matter of WHEN.

    Thus endeth the article.

    Of course, one could ask “Where are all the crashes then?” I know this has me puzzled regarding Ryanair.

    • Richard says:

      If we assume the fatigue problems are as bad as implied, it still wouldn’t necessarily lead to many crashes (I’m not saying it doesn’t indicate a serious problem, just explaining why we might be “getting away with it”).

      I haven’t looked into it, but I would guess that crashes in cars caused by fatigue generally happen when the driver isn’t doing something difficult that they were aware they were going to have to do. For example merging onto a busy road. I would assume most occur because the driver fell asleep during a “boring” bit of the drive (that might result in crashing at an intersection or something, but is not when it happened).

      I would assume the same with pilots. They are unlikely to fall asleep at take off or landing for example because you are too active to do so. And if a pilot fell asleep during cruise – while obviously a significant problem – would not immediately lead to a crash. Before that happened, alarms should go off and so on which means the pilot is more likely to be able to recover the situation. Plus of course there’s two there, except for short periods. So the second pilot should return quickly enough even if the lone pilot fell asleep.

      • Rod says:

        It isn’t just falling asleep, which can happen and which is why they’ve wisely created rest breaks for long-haul flights (which, incredibly, used not to exist).

        It’s more the I’m-not-getting-enough-rest-and-making-mistakes-or-missing-things phenomenon. And yes, in 99.99% of the cases you won’t have a car accident because of good road engineering or whatever, the airlines will get away with it until some time when the chips are down and fatigue is a crucial link in the chain of happenstance factors that leads to a crash.

        I’m outraged that so many people — not just pilots — are having their pay and working conditions chiselled away at these days. But we want everything to be CHEAP. (Where I live, planes are cheaper than trains — there’s just something wrong with that). We’d all be better off if we paid enough for airline crew (and everyone else) to be correctly remunerated and in a position to be properly rested.

  11. Rod says:


    The captain goes on to point out that FOs at his company make so little money that they have to live far outside of town (the sticks being cheaper than the Big City) and are often tired from the commute before they even start work. (Echoes here of the FO in the Buffalo crash.) And he says that he himself has fallen asleep “dozens of times” and he would dare any of his colleagues to deny that the same has happened to them. He says “The calibre of our FOs and the unrelenting drive to save money have saddled us with an alarming safety problem. And we aren’t talking about it.”

    They then quote the list of complaints of a Lufthansa FO, who finishes off by saying “Of course, we’re still much better off than crews of other airlines.”

    The article points out that sturdier safety net at Lufthansa or not, Andreas Lubitz managed to fall through it.

    They then go on to talk about the pay-to-fly phenomenon, i.e. all the money you yourself have to sink into the training to qualify you for the FO’s seat, then the measly pay you get, which often isn’t enough to live on (see Buffalo). The article doesn’t say so, but I’ve heard this problem is particularly acute at Ryanair.


  12. Rod says:

    Much like the 2009 Buffalo crash, this one is producing some scary reading in the media. Does it reflect a real reason for concern, or is it so much scandal-mongering? Dunno.

    Die Welt is not usually my cup of tea, but someone else put me onto this article. I’ll summarize it.

    They’ve interviewed a captain with a German charter airline, speaking on condition of strict anonymity. He says his company’s standards are less strict than Lufthansa’s (and therefore Germanwings’), that on numerous occasions he has had to “talk the first officer down” to landing when it was that person’s turn to fly, and this even in good weather. (I know this will make Patrick’s blood boil, but we’re talking Germany here, not the US. I have no idea how they select and train aircrew at Air Berlin and that sort of airline.) <>

  13. Mom says:

    The Airbus A320 family of jet airliners (A318, A319, A320 and A321) are manufactured by Airbus, an aircraft manufacturing division of Airbus Group (nee European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co) based in Blagnac, Tolouse, France. Does this fact have any bearing on French investigators’ premature disclosure of confidential investigation findings that is being media-sensationalized? For whose benefit?

    • Rod says:

      Can you give us some examples of “premature disclosure of confidential investigation findings”? You know, the sort of thing that would have remained “confidential” in a similar investigation carried out in the US or the UK, say.

  14. doug says:

    Haha, I tried to post a reasonable, lay-person’s comment earlier. But I also see in this thread a sub-trend toward inane conspiracy theories, all those “Occam’s razor be damned” convoluted scenarios by black-ops buffs. Are we going to argue about Obama’s birth records next? ;-/

    Back to some of the thoughts in Patrick’s original commentary, about pilots … I’m sure you’re thrilled with the NYTimes article today about auto-piloting, containing this quote:

    “In a recent survey of airline pilots, those operating Boeing 777s reported that they spent just seven minutes manually piloting their planes during the typical flight. Pilots operating Airbus planes spent half that time.

    And commercial planes are becoming smarter all the time. “An Airbus airliner knows enough not to fly into a mountain,” said David Mindell, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics and astronautics professor. “It has a warning system that tells a pilot. But it doesn’t take over.”

    • Seth Knoepler says:

      Over the years I’ve often found NY Times articles about issues in my own professional field to be maddeningly glib and underinformed. In a weird way I find it comforting to know that the Gray Lady is perfectly capable of doing an equally poor job of covering other, entirely different fields.

      • Rod says:

        Not just the NYT. Media coverage of almost anybody’s field of professional activity — and everything else — is bound to be glib and ass-backwards. Which should be a big HINT to us about the media generally. We simply cannot count on it to set the record straight. If we’re interested in a particular issue (to which the media may well have drawn our attention) we have to do our own digging.

    • Yo Moer says:

      Maybe we should gather all these experts and media people and load them on one of this supposedly totally automated airplanes. Have it setup like the movie Speed. And tell them all: ok it’s all automated so it should be a breeze to make it take off from an aiport, fly and land on another airport all by itself. BTW you have a 6 hours to figure it out and take off before that deadline or it’ll explode. Try to open the doors and it’ll explode. If you make it take off, keep a perfect cruising altitude and speed or it’ll explode. Make it land smoothly with all that automation like you all guys swear, too rough of a landing and it’ll explode.

      • Yo Moer says:

        Oh and forgot disengage the ” autopilot” or do anything without the “autopilot” and it’ll explode.

  15. Nianbo says:

    Patrick, do you want to hear some grade A garbage about the Germanwings crash?

  16. sam says:

    There was a mayday signal at DGAC France emergency and received from the tower in Barcelonette!! But as soon as the cover-up was under way it was denied. However there are many sources who can prove otherwise. Even CNN reported this.

    • Patrick says:

      “Barcelonette”! What a great word.

      • Rod says:

        Yes, this crossed my mind too. Don’t mean to be flippant, but it ended up being a flight from Barcelona to Barcelonette.

        Barcelonette is part of the region I spent my measly 350 hours of single-engine VFR time flying in and it’s true that Barcelonette has a paved runway at over 3,700 ft elevation. But I doubt it has a tower to this day.

        Instead, the French controllers (in Marseille) issued a “mayday” (which has implications going beyond the word itself) on behalf of the Germanwings plane, which they could see descending rapidly toward the Alps. In other words, rescue services and whatnot were alerted.
        That’s the way the system works.

        That anyone could squeeze a ‘conspiracy theory’ out of this incident beggars the imagination.

  17. dan Ullman says:

    If nothing else, recent events prove BEA leaks like a sieve.

    • Rod says:

      Why is that? I think all Western crash-investigation agencies routinely announce the discovery of important pieces of evidence (while cautioning that their ultimate significance must await the final report).

      Also, since this is being considered a crime, the French public prosecutor is also involved and also answers journalists’ questions.

      Trying to keep hermetically sealed an investigation of such obvious public interest not only wouldn’t work, it would be contrary to public interest and policy.

  18. joyce riley says:

    Why is no one addressing some obvious issues that scream “agenda story?”

    Washington Post and a number of other sources report the Captain created a loud noise heard on the audio of him using an axe. Since when did any aircraft put axes in the cabin? As a USAF Flight Nurse, my BS detector went off. Are we to believe the pilot took the crash axe with him to the latrine?

    Retinal detachment mentioned as his diagnosis. A retina will detach (remember, I was a Flight Nurse, Medical Crew Director and we would tell the Pilot that cabin altitude could not go above 4,000 feet.

    The scene in the Alps is not a crash scene. It is the aftermath of an EXPLOSION. There is too much wrong with the public story from the Bild (German Enquirer).

    What frightens me is that many pilots are admitting to me that the “suicide story” could not be true. All the
    “CNN pilot experts are not addressing real issues, only parroting the CYA story. Where are the real men and women who think and speak the truth? J. Riley

    • Richard says:

      I had been told, quietly, in the past that yes, there are crash axes in the main cabin.

      And where are you suggesting it exploded? If it did so at altitude, the debris would be scattered over a MUCH larger area. Plus, the debris being small is much more indicative of a high impact crash, not an explosion. An explosion could tear an aircraft apart (whether on the ground or in the air) but not into such small pieces. A high speed impact with the ground though will do exactly that. In fact an explosion would generally leave larger debris because the plane would have actually hit the ground at lower speed.

    • Patrick says:

      Oh my god, can there please be a plane crash that is NOT instantly trailed by a conspiracy theory?

      • Frank says:


        I’m aware you really meant can there please be next to no plane crashes and even less conspiracy theories. No offense, just sayin’.

        • Curt Sampson says:

          Less in the way of conspiracy theories would be good, yes. But fewer plane crashes? No, not really.

          We already spend far, far too much per life on air travel safety, at the cost of (worldwide) hundreds of thousands of people dying each year in other travel modes.

    • sam says:

      Crash axes are on board to assist flight crew with murdering their passengers that get on the flight attendants’nerves!

      Seriously now, crash axes are necessary to assist crews to break open panels to fire fight in case of electrical fires in the cabin behind paneling or in toilette.

      I cannot believe how evil mass media is in gulping up the rubbish they decide the world must know! This is a major coverup !!!

      Time to wake up people! Much evil in this world — there was more than one reason to take this plane down in the eyes of nwo.

  19. #‎911UNVEILED :
    Compare the large pieces of Flight 9525 Airbus 320 to lack of evidence of similar debris at the Pentagon and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001.

    Germanwings Flight 9525 crash site photos — — blow away official account of Flight 77 — — and Flight 93 — — on 9/11.

    • Patrick says:

      Completely different crash dynamics. American 77 was an EXTREMELY high-speed, high-energy, head-on impact into a concrete building. Flight 93 wasn’t much different: a tremendously high-speed and near vertical impact with the ground. Germanwings 9525 was a comparatively tame impact by comparison. The debris in all three cases is pretty much exactly what you’d expect.

      • Eirik says:

        Except for the following facts;

        First reporters at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, said there was NOTHING indicating there ever was a plane crashing there.
        No bodies, no luggage.

        Just saying.

        • Patrick says:

          False. Indeed the first responders who arrived at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania initially saw nothing that resembled a plane. Because, really, there WAS nothing that resembled a plane. The aircraft had disintegrated — as is totally consistent with ultra-high speed direct-impact crashes. It quickly became clear, however, that what they were looking at were crash sites. As for United 93 specifically, instead of getting your information from some ignorant scrawl on the internet, you should read Tom McMillan’s excellent book, “Flight 93,” which chronicles the crash and recovery efforts in great detail. The trees surrounding the impact crater were full of bits of luggage and human remains, much of it caught up in branches. Plenty of aircraft debris was later excavated from the crater itself.

          • Eirik says:


            I`ll admit I havent read all the books out there about 9/11, but I dont think you have either? Im no pilot, but I do know what a B757 look like, I can spot that beautiful bird anytime, and although I have watched the Pentagon camera at least 100 times, I can still not make those images to be a B757.

            A plane like that would simply NOT fly 20 feet above the ground, explode in ONE fireball and then be gone – leaving nothing else than a hole in the building, windows right next to the hole perfectly intact.

            In my world, that goes against anything I ever learned about physics. And thats quite a lot.

            Sorry, I dont mean to hijack (no pun intended) the Germanwings discussion here, but I had to reply.

            All the best.

  20. Lorraine says:

    I am just a person who knows nothing about planes, pilots, co pilots etc. However; when I read that the doctor sent a note with the pilot “Unfit to Work” was the doctor not aware of what TYPE of work this man performed?

    My suggestion, which many called dumb when I brought it up to them, was that doctors be obliged, by law, to contact the airline when they feel the pilot is not fit to work.

    Is my idea as stupid as I’ve been told? I am terrified to fly and now I am frozen with fear. I don’t know if I can ever get on a plane again.

    Thanks for any insight, Lorraine M Holst

    • Curt Sampson says:

      Lorraine: how’s this for insight? You’re more likely to die in your car or taxi on the way to or from the airport than you are on the airplane.

      Why does getting in to a vehicle that, in the US, kills on average a few dozen people a year scare you, but getting in to a vehicle that kills 30,000 people per year not scare you?

    • J Wan says:

      This is actually a good question. In the USA if someone has a seizure episode, it is mandated in 6 states (including California) that the physician report this to the Dept of Motor Vehicles. In other states, it is elective reporting that the driver is supposed to do so.

      I don’t know what the rules are about flying but one would suspect there should be a mechanism.

      • Curt Sampson says:

        There are pretty careful controls in the airline industry regarding pilots’ health and issues that could affect their ability to do their job. True, they may have failed in this case, but there are plenty of other things that could have gone wrong as well. It’s *way* too early to speculate on what actually happened. For some other possibilities, look at this comment below and the one I made following it:

    • sam says:

      I flew for a German airline 27 years and you cannot believe the pressure one works under! Understanding the attitude of Germans to their employers is a very important factor! Most flight crew love their jobs and are dedicated to the company and their colleagues… So as far as I can see this is a major coverup and there were many reasons the nwo would have wanted to down this plane

      • Patrick says:

        “NWO” refers to New World Order, in case you were wondering. I was going to delete this fellow’s various ranting comments but some of them are fun to read. Don’t bother emailing him; he uses a dummy address, as is often the case with trolls claiming conspiracy theories.

    • Siegfried says:

      Hi Lorraine,

      Your question is not “stupid” in any way. But German privacy laws for doctors are pretty strict and so far there is no way that a doctor is even allowed to contact an employer over medical issues of one of his patients. However, there is an ongoing discussion in Germany right now, to change these rules in the aftermath of the current disaster.

  21. Lea Vilasi says:

    Thank you for your true and honest assessment of an unbelievable and rare occurrence, that pilot did not commit suicide he committed mass murder and the probes into his mental health are fruitless , so many suffer depression but don’t kill fellow humans !

    • Dave s says:

      Yes you are correct. And it was premeditated murder. This pilot’s life was unraveling. His own mental health issues were threatening his career. As the woman he was having an affair with stated, “his realised his dream of being a long haul Lufthansa pilot was impossible” his entire identity was wrapped up ins career. He didn’t want to return to flipping burgers in Montabaur.. His fiance was pregnant and about to leave him. He told the other woman, “someday I will do something so that everyone will know my name”. She broke off the affair due to his erratic behavior.. He and he alone programmed the descent into the alps. It has come to light that he manually sped up the plane several times during the descent. He had researched cockpit doors to make psitively sure that he knew the procedure for locking the cockpit door. He was being treated for mental illness. He was clearly insne. Why disn’t he put the plane into a nosedive? Perhaps he wanted to hear the passengers scream.interesing that thechief pilot had already realised his dream of being a long haul pilot. I can’t beleve that some people are coming to this psychotic’s defense.

  22. Robert says:

    I may not have been as clear as wanted in the previous posts.

    God knows what we would do without competent pilots.

    But, and I hate to bring it to this level, but you guys are expediters of a function; get us from here to there safely; I appreciate your training and background, but understand what you are expected to do.

    You need to embrace whatever technology allows you to do that, especially when confronted with your garden-variety whacko.

    Don’t be so hung up on your “We Pilots Are The Gods Of The Air” syndrome.

    Use whatever means can be developed to make sure this kind of crap doesn’t happen again.

    • Rod says:

      Sorry, but it isn’t as if the airline industry, aircraft manufacturers and government regulators have just been twiddling their thumbs. As Patrick has repeatedly pointed out, taking the plane is a WHOLE LOT safer today than it was a few decades ago.

      But just as you can’t be sure you won’t get struck by a meteor or that some suicidal fruitloop coming the other way won’t suddenly swerve right at you into your lane, it simply isn’t possible to ensure “this kind of crap doesn’t happen again”.

      From time to time there will be a tragedy, even a crime. We just have to hope we aren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      • Robert says:

        You’re right …. we can never be assured that “this crap will never happen again”.

        My point was that we must utilize whatever technology evolves that can guard against it, or at least, reduce it’s possibility.

        The mindset that Pilots, as appreciated and respected as they are, must remain as the last gate of refuge against anything negative that can happen, is misplaced.

        We need to utilize whatever we can do to eliminate the possibility of “resident whackos actions” beyond our control.

        Obviously, the human (pilot) factor did not eliminate this most recent disaster.

        • Curt Sampson says:

          “My point was that we must utilize whatever technology evolves that can guard against it, or at least, reduce it’s possibility.”

          As someone who’s profession is developing software and analyzing what can go wrong with it, I can tell you the *last* thing you want to do is try to apply “technology” to this problem. We need systems (which involve people and procedures), and we have those. This is a classic example of where adding more technology (such as being able to take over an aircraft remotely) is going to increase, rather than decrease, the accident rate.

          • Curt Sampson says:

            Oops, of course I meant “whose” above. Darn inability to edit.

            But I’ll use this post also to point out that, Robert, having read more of your comments, you clearly have no experience whatsoever with systems development or risk management. Your approach of “patch on technology to attempt to address a single problem that happens to be in the news,” while completely ignoring all the other problems that you’re introducing by doing that, is a recipe for disaster.

            If you want to get a taste (a very small one) of the kind of analysis you need to do to be able to deal with these sorts of things, I suggest you take on some small robotics project, such as making a simple robot that can move around a room. (There are kits for this.) Then tweak the software to make it handle various hardware problems you introduce (e.g., a tack in the tyre) and start stacking up all the potential problems. You’ll very quickly realize that your ad-hoc approach of “focus only on this problem and ignore any others” will fall apart.

          • Rod says:

            Right. I think airlines have to recognize* that they have a bunch of fallible human beings flying their airplanes (though the least fallible they can find). Some airlines have a sort of no-fault father-confessor system: some avuncular senior pilot to whom you can go to admit some mistake you made or just generally pour your heart out.

            I’m not saying this would have stopped Andreas Lubitz. But you never know.

            * I’m sure most airlines absolutely do recognize it. But Michael O’Leary, say, will never get it.

        • sam says:

          For this crap to never happen again we will have to introduce a psychological assessment for the elits, all politicians and the mass murderers of characters in mass media

        • LD II says:

          Remote Control planes? Seriously? Now we have to worry about a whole bunch of people hacking into the planes and crashing them from the ground as well. No Thank you.

          I’ll take my chances with the pilots.

  23. Robert says:

    The shortcomings of psychological professionals is interesting, but does not eliminate the possibility of someone like this guy to successfully lie to therapists and achieve his goals.

    I understand the “Pliots’ Club” and all the asumptions of invincibility that implies.

    Nonetheless, and at the risk of pissing off a lot of pilots, their job is to safely get a planeload of passengers to their destination. At times, this means they may have to give in to technology that will allow them to do that.

    Until pilots learn how to “transport” themselves into a locked cockpit and neutralize whatever threat lies within, they need to come to grips with the fact that they are humans like the rest of us and give in to a technology that will allow us all to fly feeling more safe.

  24. Seth Knoepler says:

    As a psychologist who has done his share of psychological assessments I’ve been especially interested in the emerging debate about whether more can/should be done to try to identify pilots and pilot candidates who are more likely to eventually “do a Lubitz.”

    It’s a complicated question, even – perhaps especially – if you happen to know something about the challenges and limitations of psychological testing and assessment. Some mental health professionals – especially psychiatrists and professional mental health counselors with masters degrees, who typically know very little about psychological tests) are arguing that trying to identify “the next Lubitz” is a mug’s game that’s likely to do more harm than good. (See Gary Greenberg’s piece on the New Yorker website, for example.) Others – both laymen and mental health professionals, especially psychologists – are arguing that more can and should be done despite the limitations and unavoidable problems. (See the email from “an American psychologist” which James Fallows, who is himself a private pilot, included in his most recent post on this topic on the Atlantic’s website.)

  25. Robert says:

    The conflict is clear.
    It is not acceptable for pilots to relinquish their ultimate control of the aircraft.

    Under normal circumstances.

    This incident is anything but normal, and, based upon history, won’t be the last.

    The idea of developing safeguards that will take away any pilot input for these truly horrifying occasions is the only way to solve this. When conditions of intentional nefarious descent and speed will obviously result in disaster, this option has to be available.

    • Rod says:

      And just where would you draw the technology line between “nefarious” and conceivably vital, between “obviously” and not obvious at all? How would you develop a system that reliably distinguishes between suicidal intent and action necessary to save the passengers’ lives?
      These are real questions. Every crash has lessons to teach. But that doesn’t mean that the lessons learned won’t themselves lead to new opportunities for disaster … such as the post-911 impenetrable cockpit door.

  26. Colin Bradley says:

    Is it true the pilot was prevented from using an axe to break into the cockpit because that was stored in the cockpit?

    • Rod says:

      Apparently not true as he can apparently be heard taking an axe to the door which, as advertised and designed, resisted this assault.

  27. John Smith says:

    “Up next, my old friend Missy Cummings is at it again, this time fooling a reporter at “Pilots only spend 3 minutes per flight flying a plane anyway,” she spouts. That’s a disgusting and deceptive thing to say. What she might mean is that pilots spend a relatively little amount of time (though it’s more than three minutes) steering the plane by hand. But they very much are flying it for the entirety.”

    I’ve picked up that opinion from a lot of ex-military pilots who have never flown in airlines, especially from former fighter pilots like Miss Cummings. It does reek of an arrogance towards their civilian trained and employed brethren.

    • Eirik says:

      As you all know, we have heard a LOT of remote controlled commercial airplanes lately. First after MH370 disappeared, and now again.

      And the discussion is gonna pop up each time they can prove the pilot was in fault.

      “We need to get rid of the pilots, they are the real danger here, not the airplanes!”

      Thats not an actual quote by the way (not that I know of anyway), but it sounds like thats what they are thinking.

      But, I have never heard anyone explaining exactly how this will work in real life. As I have mentioned earlier in this discussion;

      – Will the pilots be able to deny a request from the ground if they take control of the plane? If so, whats the point if the pilots want to crash the plane? They just gonna go back and forth, fighting whos able to fly the plane? Ground take control, pilots take it back. Then ground and then the pilots again (back off, Im in control!!). Eventually, the plane will crash anyway.

      – What if the guy on the ground decide to crash a plane? Will the pilots be able to avoid it, or do they totally lose control of the plane once ground is taking over? Now, thats a scary thought, if you ask me!

      And, since you already need qualified personnel on the ground to fly the plane, why not just keep them on board the plane instead? There is nothing that can replace the eyes and ears of the pilots on board. Nothing.

      Who is going to pay for all of this? If the airlines must still pay a guy on the ground, why not pay a real pilot instead?

      And how many planes is the guy on the ground supposed to be in control of at any given time? Only 1? Or maybe 5 or 25? How is he going to be able to keep track of all that? We all know that once something catastrophic happens on a plane (like mechanical failure), not a second can be spared. So they would need to act FAST to even have the slightest chance to save the plane.

      It seems to me there are a lot of “smart ass solutions” presented by the media and the “experts”, but no one really knows how this is going to work out.

      Remote control of trains who travel on rail roads from A to B?
      I guess thats doable.

      Airplanes at 40.000 feet over the Atlantic where anything might happen?
      I would not board that plane.

  28. Rod says:

    This is a blog about the airline business. A feature of recent editions (especially this one) has been frustration with the lack of public and media understanding of what airline pilots do.

    Though an aviation geek, I’ve worked as a staff translator for three decades. I can go toe to toe with Patrick on teeth-grinding instances of widespread ignorance and lack of respect for our respective professions. Translators are not just people who know how to flip through the pages of a dictionary. To be good takes years of training and practice. And MANY simply don’t have what it takes.
    People totally fail to comprehend the complexities and problems involved. Hell, they usually confuse translation with interpretation.

    And I’m sure there are a lot of other professions out there with similar grievances. People are envious, fund-seeking, axe-grinding, carbon-based bipeds and Nobody Knows the Trouble They’ve Seen.

    I greatly enjoy Patrick’s blogs — they’re witty, well-written and thoughtful. And I learn a lot. But most people, including journalists, don’t have a clue about a whole lot — of anything.

    At some point it’s best to accept that the Masses are Asses and that the jobs we do are under-appreciated by virtually everyone else. And that attempts to set the record straight, while sometimes effective, will always leave plenty of ingrained ignorance out there. ‘Twas ever thus, and ever shall be.

    The Germanwings crash is a heavy blow to the piloting profession because a lot of people are fundamentally afraid of flying and this will generate knew catastrophic fantasies to make them stew. And give them new reasons to narrow their eyes in suspicion when a pilot walks by.

  29. Jeff O'Byrne says:

    Good summation of the GermanWings situation. As a non-pilot but a student of decision making, it looks to me as if the BEA is again on a ‘blame the dead guys’ red herring tangent. In this case the opportunity cost is an examination the bureaucratic/legal issues involved in having an ab initio person with 500 hours in the air (of the 600 hours he had before this flight, 100 were in type) being hired as a First Officer. And he was no Yeager in flight school either. Rather than suicide, might the audio tape indicate a bad bit of switchology from which he didn’t know how to recover?
    Paul Gilchrist talked of not allowing two nuggets to fly together because of the shallowness of their knowledge. And these nuggets were Naval Aviators rapidly closing on 1000 hours of flight time and a couple of hundred in their F-8s.

  30. Phil Stotts says:

    Thanks for writing this, Patrick. I’ve been besieged by non-flying friends with silly questions about the GermanWings incident, and have simply ignored their emails. Now I can send them a link to this story and let you explain things far better than I could.

  31. Anonymous says:

    The only thing possibly more misleading and error-ridden than the aviation reporting on this incident is the health/medical reporting. I’m a clinical psychologist and I cringe at how fast and loose reporters play with psychological and psychiatric terms and concepts. I’ve come to expect it even from so-called “health reporters.”

    As an aside, I remember in graduate school learning that certain groups of professionals, including airline pilots, tend to score a little differently from most of the population in a specific way on a widely used personality test (incidentally, one that is required by the FAA for psych evals). Though I am not a huge fan of personality testing and do not work in aerospace psychology, that little tidbit always stuck with me.

    • Seth Knoepler says:

      You seem to know more than most people, including most journalists, about the extent to which attempts are made to evaluate at least certain pilots’ psychological “fitness for duty.” Based on the things that I’ve read since the Germanwings crash, such assessments seem to be very much the exception to the rule. What do you know about the circumstances under which a commercial pilot may be compelled to submit to a psychological evaluation, and about how effective those evaluations are for accomplishing their purpose?

    • sam says:

      Do you agree — we need these assessment tests for all elites, politicians and mass media? Afterall there are more mass murderers there than on planes???

  32. Barb says:

    I’m not a pilot, but a 60 year old. Based on what the ‘authorities’ and media have released today, this is a question and a rant.

    News released is that the DFDR has been found. News released is that on a tablet, owned by Lubitz, is a history of internet searches for ‘how to commit suicide’, ‘how to crash a plane’, ‘cockpit door security’.

    Lubitz was a pilot; did he really have to research on the internet how to crash a plane?? Being a pilot, what part of the cockpit door security would he have had to research on the internet?? Not to sound flippant, but how did people manage to commit suicide before they could research the ways on the internet??

    I’ve been reading comments from people on these latest ‘developments’. Most of the comments sicken me. People are saying that the FDR isn’t needed, we KNOW that Lubitz was a psychotic, mass-murdering, insane, suicidal monster that just wanted to see his name in the press. On my local radio station talk show they have ‘experts’ (not sure what field they think they’re experts in) saying that Lubitz is most certainly guilty because he was a homicidal maniac; after all he was researching how to crash planes and commit suicide! I’ve read where people are saying he didn’t tell his doctor he was flying. What doctor? Which ‘reports’ state that?

    Personally, it’s my opinion that maybe Lubitz was recently diagnosed as diabetic; if he was seeing a doctor. What if his blood glucose was not controlled and he became hypoglycemic? Neuroglycopenic symptoms would explain his alleged actions in the cockpit. He and the captain had just finished discussing pre-landing. It’s entirely possible, if he was suffering the above medical condition, to 1) believe that he should start to program the plane for landing, 2)inadvertently lock the cockpit door instead of releasing the lock.

    It bothers me that Lubitz was found guilty of mass-murder and suicide within a couple of days of the crash; well before all the evidence was collected. It bothers me that the ‘authorities’, the infamous ‘unnamed sources’, release little sound bites and the media and public fill in the blanks. It bothers me that so many people in today’s society aren’t willing to wait for an investigation to be complete before trying a person of a heinous crime. It bothers me that people are so willing to believe the worst of someone else, if only to be able to accept a tragedy of this sort. It bothers me that common sense is dead.

    Apologies for my ranting but I would appreciate hearing from pilots on why Lubitz would have had to research on the internet about the cockpit door security. Anything he would have needed to know, would he not already have known, or wouldn’t the info be available from manuals at his disposal? Also, would he really have needed to research the internet to find out how to crash a plane?

    Thanks for listening to my rants.

    • Curt Sampson says:

      Barb: your points are great, but it could be even simpler than this.

      The locked cockpit door seems to me pretty easy to explain: isn’t the door supposed to be locked at all times while in flight? Or what, is it ok now for terrorists to take down airplanes so long as one pilot went to the toilet?

      As for the apparently programmed descent into terrain, managing an autopilot system is actually fairly complex work, and there’s a reason that the “pilot flying” cross-checks everything he does with the “pilot monitoring.” (These roles switch between the Captain and the First Officer so that each spends about half his time in each role.) The Asiana Airlines Flight 214 accident report[1] gives an excellent example of how, in stressful situations, even three people (PF, PM and an observer) can miss key indications given out by an autopilot system that it’s doing something unexpected. The crash in that situation, and I would bet in the Germanwings one as well, is not caused just by the pilot, but by the interaction of the pilot, the design of the aircraft controls, and the particular circumstances that were allowed to occur by the procedures and systems in place to manage all components of the flight.


      (And boy would I love it if anybody wanting to comment on this incident wouldn’t be allowed to do so before reading and understanding the report I reference above. If you don’t know the difference between programming a VNAV versus an FLCH SPD altitude change, you almost certainly don’t understand all the possibilities about what could have gone wrong here.)

  33. RLnicole says:

    yes, there may be accidents caused by the pilots or simply human errors but there are also many incidents that nearly causes plane crashes but avoided by the skills of the well trained pilots. try to spare some time to watch a 12 minute video taken from the national geographic channel. The auto pilot didnt respond because of the explosion caused by the terrorists. this is from Mactan, Cebu Philippines bound to Narita Japan. so let’s ponder on this and analyze. what if there are no pilots to neutralize the situation and the auto pilot isnt responding. try to see. Capt. Reyes and the Filipino crew trying to save the cripple plane with 273 souls on board. (true story)

  34. RLnicole says:

    yes, there may be many accidents caused by the pilots or human erorrs but there are also incidents that nearly caused the plane crashes but avoided by the skills of the well trained pilot. try to spare some time to watch a 12 minute video taken from the national geographic channel. The auto pilot didnt respond because of the explosion caused by the terrorists. this is from Mactan, Cebu Philippines bound to Narita Japan. so let’s ponder on this and analyze. what if there are no pilots to neutralize the situation and the auto pilot isnt responding. try to see. Capt. Reyes and the Filipino crew trying to save the cripple plane with 273 souls on board. (true story)

  35. Roy says:

    An old aviators’ joke goes like this: In the future, airline cockpit crews will consist of one pilot and a dog. The pilot is there to feed the dog, the dog is there to bite the pilot if he touches any of the controls.

  36. caleigh says:

    Why is it that Lubitz was told to prepare for landing right after reaching cruising altitude? Is that protocol? If not, wouldnt that suggest its possible they were planning on emergency landing?



    PS- cockpit confidential gives me the guts to fly. Its my bible.

    • Eirik says:

      The flight is relatively short, approx 2 hours, so once they reached cruise altitude they would start gathering information about weather condition, wind, approach pattern, if there were any delays at the airport etc, so it wasnt the actual landing he was preparing.

      And if it was an emergency landing, the Captain would never leave the cockpit to go to the toilet.

  37. Rob Danson says:

    “In August of 2001, pilotless technology was further demonstrated by Raytheon, which successfully took off and landed a Boeing 727 six times at Holloman AFB in New Mexico without a pilot on board.”

    Please comment on this Mr. Smith.

    • John LM says:

      He already did address this above:

      “To be clear, I’m not arguing the technological impossibility of a pilotless plane. Certainly we have the capability. Just as we have the capability to be living in domed cities on Mars. But because it’s possible doesn’t mean that it’s affordable, practical, or even desirable. And the technological and logistical challenges are daunting…”

      Raytheon, Northrop and others have demonstrated countless technologies throughout the previous decades, many of which have made their way through the military ranks before filtering into civilian aviation. I’d guess to say just as many of those advanced abilities stayed in the testing phases or have not yet been released for public use.

      NASA and the FAA used an old Boeing 720 to demonstrate the survivability of a crash landing. The plane was remotely controlled from the ground by one of the best test pilots around. While the results would seem to be a success the plane was in fact hard to control remotely and entered a Dutch Roll just before impact. As it was after the decision height they proceeded with the test rather then try to execute a missed approach.

      Just because the technology exists doesn’t mean we should use it. I could think of dozens of reasons not to take pilots out of the cockpit and only a couple (if that) as to why they should.

    • Richard says:

      Six? Seriously?

      Let me take you through a small part of how software gets tested on an aircraft. When a new piece of software is introduced, even if there are no other changes (hardware, systems), it is extensively tested in simulations and so on. It is then put on a full sized rig, which includes such attention to detail as the wiring being the same length that it would be on the plane.

      In the case of new landing gear software (an important but very small part of the total software), the software is then tested through hundreds of real extensions and retractions in various conditions and failure scenarios.

      After that, provided there are no issues, it can then be put on a test aircraft where further tests are done before the first test flights.

      Then a number of test flights are logged (the amount depends on a number of factors such as how much has changed since the last variant of the plane, if there was one).

      Then, provided nothing has gone wrong in the testing or test flights, AND an audit has found all the processes to be acceptable, the software can be approved for passenger use. (again, I’m HUGELY simplifying the entire process there)

      And that’s for a system which has remained virtually unchanged for many years.

      If we’re talking about a brand new system, which completely changes the concept of how planes are controlled, I can only imagine the number of successful test flights that would be required, under vastly different conditions and failure conditions, before it could be used in public.

      Did they shut down an engine? Did they damage the hydraulics? Did they provide a faulty sensor on the rudder? Did they create a fuel leak in one wing? Did they… I could go on for as long as I want.

      My point? Six successful flights, in what was most likely lovely weather for a flight in New Mexico means NOTHING.

    • Stacey says:

      WITHOUT A PILOT ON BOARD (keyword there).

      RPV (Remotely Piloted Vehicle)

      Still controlled by a human on the ground. Who could still choose to crash the plane into the ground, without the fear and worry of the loss of his or her own life. If they choose to.

      IF it is a plane that is running via computer programming and auto guidance, then…. A human programmed that. I’m sure it’s perfect. Nothing every goes wrong with software and all software is ready to handle any situation at any time.

      What makes you think that a human is ever removed from the process?

    • Patrick says:

      Sure, the BASICS of this technology have been around for decades. But taking off and landing a plane, in a very controlled and monitored environment, using an experimental aircraft, is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The typical flight is subject to hundreds of contingencies, from taxi-out to touchdown, from maneuvering around bad weather (something that is more art than science) to dealing with malfunctions to planning and coordinating your descent and arrival, all requiring human input. And that’s not including when something serious malfunctions or goes wrong.

      • Doug says:

        Remote control involves human input – only the human is not in the cockpit.

        Remote control flight is a reality today – and not just with toys or experimental aircraft. The Air Force has been taking off, flying, and landing drones by remote control for years – decades – dating back to WW2 and probably before. We’re not talking about small aircraft either. The B-17 and B-24 were big some of the biggest aircraft of their day. The B-47 was a six engine jet. Operational aircraft – not prototypes.
        Controlled environments? Drones took off and landed on carriers in the 50’s. Their “controlled environment” was in and around the mushroom clouds of the pacific atomic bomb tests. One of the reasons for remote control was because the environment was too dangerous, or “uncontrolled” to risk a human pilot.

        Can modern commercial airliners be remotely controlled? Well, Boeing has patented their Uninterruptible autopilot, and announced plans to install it on all their aircraft. That was several years ago. It works by “removing electrical power from an aircraft’s flight deck, and irrevocably passing pilot authority to the autopilot and navigational computer for an automated landing at a safe airfield”.

        • Eirik says:

          Hi Doug,

          I dont doubt that the technology exist and that you can actually take off, fly and land a large passenger jet by remote control. But keep in mind that this is experiments, in remote and controlled air space, NOT flying in and out of JFK, O`Hare and Logan.

          Here are some numbers for you;

          Star Alliance: 18,043 flights per day
          One World: 14,011 flights per day
          Sky Team: 15,723 flights per day

          Total: 47,777 flights per day

          Im sure I dont have to remind you that each of these flights include taxi from gate to runway, take off, flight, landing and then taxi to gate.

          Add that activity to the total of flights each day, plus all the cargo flights and other flights not flown by any of these airline alliances – then explain how all of this can be done by remote control.

        • Patrick says:

          Doug, I don’t want to sound like an arrogant ass, but this is a great example of having no understanding whatsoever of the operational realities of flying commercial planes. You are talking about stuff that exists on a mostly conceptual and at best experimental level, and is nowhere CLOSE to being implemented on a commercial level with the lives of paying passengers in the balance.

          • Nonoti says:

            Connected aircraft flown remotely with onboard computers making decisions…

            Never mind scantily clad bikini posters, THIS will be every malicious hacker’s dream come true!

    • Doug says:

      Absolutely right, Rob. Remote control of aircraft is hardly new or experimental. The US is regularly flying drones remote control from bases halfway around the world, doing all those things that some pilots think one must be in the cockpit to do. The Air Force has a space craft with an autonomous flight control system. The head of Boeing is already talking about the day of the pilotless airliner, and you can bet the farm that airline management would love to eliminate the expense of pilots on board the aircraft.

      The Brits flew B24 4 engine bombers remotely in WW2, there are u-tube videos of the US flying b-17s remotely. The B-47, a large, 6-engine jet, was flown remotely in the 50’s – long before there were passenger jets. There’s nothing harder than landing on an aircraft carrier, but the US had remote control planes doing this during the atomic tests in the 50’s too. The FAA flew a Boeing 720 remotely in the 80’s as well. Boeing has patented its “Uninterruptible Autopilot” which locks the pilot out of the loop altogether, and has said it will install it on all its airliners. That was several years ago.
      I imagine it is considered “Sensitive Security Information” so that commercial pilots, having a federal license, can’t talk about it or even acknowledge its existence.
      The difficulty here however, is that if you don’t accept the murder suicide scenario, what’s left? Diabetic attack? Stroke/heart attack? Autopilot malfunction? Combination of above? or something more sinister/embarassing? That missing memory chip suggests the latter.

      • Curt Sampson says:

        Doug, a remotely piloted aircraft is not “pilotless”; it just has the pilots in a different place. And given the amount of work it takes to run an autopilot and do all the other things you need to do to fly a commercial jet, and the need for cross-checking for safety, it’s simply not possible to run an aircraft to current commercial aviation safety standards without two pilots. So they’ll both be there on the ground.

        Then, if you start to look at what you need to deal with emergencies (as just one example, the ability to inspect any part of the aircraft and determine the level of structural damage so as to respond appropriately), you’re still going to need someone with pilot-level skills on board anyway to maintain anything near current safety levels.

        It would actually be *more* expensive to run an aircraft to current safety standards if you didn’t have the pilots on board.

        Military drones run fine with a remote pilot because they don’t run at anywhere near the safety standards of commercial passenger aviation. (If a problem happens, you just lose an aircraft, as opposed to planeload of passengers.)

        • Eirik says:

          “If you want to fly a hi-tech airplane, there is a responsibility to understand the systems. Because when those systems fail, it’s up to the pilot to recover.” Captain De Crespigny

      • Ilea says:

        Great posts, Sir… I agreed with all your comments.

    • sam says:

      Fabulous thank goodness a few other informed humans; Boeing’s uninterruptable autopilot exists since 1990 in order to assist hijacked planes! Maybe they were practicing at the same time sending a political message to Merkel to stop chatting to Putin.
      See Field Mcconnell

  38. Jon says:

    I can understand the frustration when people marginalize your job, but let’s be serious, pilots of advanced airplanes are basically systems operators. Control tells you to climb to FL020? No problem, dial in 20,000 on the altitude dial and away you go. Turn to heading 090? No problem, dial in 090 on the HSI and away you go.

    Almost every new airplane (and many helicopters) have complete flight coupling systems which require nothing more than entering the desired data. As someone who must remain physically attached to the controls during the entire flight, I must heartily reject your claim and suggest that it is merely your feelings or ego which is being trounced. Peter Garrison had it right, my friend.

    • Eirik says:

      Makes you wonder why you even need an education and (in many cases) thousands of hours of experience before you get hired, right?

      FL020 is 2000 feet by the way, not 20.000.
      Im glad you`re not in the cockpit…

    • Patrick says:

      Okay, I’m being serious.

      “Systems operator”…whatever you want to call it: it still takes a LOT of human input. Call it what you want, I’m the one controlling the plane, not the automation.

      >> Control tells you to climb to FL020? No problem, dial in 20,000 on the altitude dial and away you go. << Really? That's it, huh? Is that what I spent six weeks of 767 training learning to do? I should have spent more time watching TV or hanging out at the bar. Did you read my descent demonstration? I really wish you (and certain other people) could tag along on one of my flights, when things get really busy, and maybe you'd have a better sense of this. >> Almost every new airplane (and many helicopters) have complete flight coupling systems which require nothing more than entering the desired data. << Bullshit. "Entering the desired data." Like I just type in some keystroke commands and the next thing I know my plane is landing safely. I'll try to remember that the next time I'm doing the Expressway Visual into LGA, or maneuvering around thunderstorms on arrival into Sao Paulo or Mexico City. And, it has nothing to do with my ego. And, Peter Garrison's remark was ridiculous.

      • John LM says:

        This all comes from that BS Vanitey Fair article about 447 that entered “System Operator” into our lexicon. My favorite part about all these “hack job for hits” pieces is that none of them are airline pilots! Nothing better to sooth the publics psyche then a private pilot telling a professional pilot what his job is and isn’t. Can you imagine some Single A scrub writing an article telling major league managers their only job is to fill out the lineup card?

      • Jon says:

        Let me put it differently. Piloting even the most advanced aircraft available today takes an enormous amount of training and skill. It is obvious that pilots can be taken out of the cockpit completely (i.e. UAS), but in most instances this is not a desirable choice. I personally am not terribly keen on pilotless aircraft larger than, say, a breadbasket. But that’s just my opinion. Not just any schmuck can climb into a cockpit and successfully complete a flight.

        That said, any schmuck CAN climb into a cockpit and make it do simple maneuvers with very little difficulty. (Most CFIs will attest to this! Ha!) Making the advanced large airplanes perform as desired would be virtually impossible for these schmucks were it not for the very competent computer systems integrated into virtually every commercial airplane in operation today (from my limited knowledge, anyway). Where the delineation between schmuck and pilot comes into play is making the aircraft perform essentially flawlessly and operating around other aircraft and obstacles. Anything beyond S&L, slow climbs and descents, and lazy turns would be well beyond the capabilities of anyone other than a trained pilot. Thus, I’m not in any way attempting to belittle or marginalize the training or capability of pilots.

        Pilots have a very real and very difficult job to complete. However, the actual physical manipulation of the aircraft is a continually declining facet to aviation. It is a simple fact that the days of constant physical interaction with the flight controls are long gone. There is no need to manually control the carb, prop angle, or trim wheel. You don’t need your whiz wheel to make altitude or airspeed calculations. No need to figure out your wind corrections. Computers give us all of this data in real time. It’s a great time to be a pilot because we can concentrate on the things that really matter, like avoiding weather and other aircraft.

        >> Control tells you to climb to FL020? No problem, dial in 20,000 on the altitude dial and away you go. < > Almost every new airplane (and many helicopters) have complete flight coupling systems which require nothing more than entering the desired data. <> Did you read my descent demonstration? <<

        I did not, but I’ll go track it down.

  39. Ilea says:

    With all do respect to every pilot in here, but the suicide crush is all BS and ALL OF YOU KNOW THAT or just are scare to admired ! This purported crash of an Airbus 340 make no sense at all! Who would purposely drive an airplane into a mountain, even if this could be done? Is any of you would do that ? I don’t think so unless you are completely crazy , but then again how can you be a pilot ?!

    Even an idiot can see that the debris pattern does not have the pattern of a real spontaneous, catastrophic crash. The plane was blown up at high speed that is why the bodies vaporized…I can go on,and on but I don’t like to humiliate anyone in here so all I can say is:

    It’s shameful to accuse a colleague in order to cover up the truth, whatever that may be!

    To prove that I’m not assault anyone but just try to make a point about courage and integrity, I will gave you another example. Last month I had lunch with my wife in a luxury place in town . They were 6 pilots sitting and drinking on the table next to ours. They were talking lots of stuff, all professional, sophisticated and envious for any ordinary person. They sound smart, brave, knowledgeable, so after we pay our bill I couldn’t resisted to asked perhaps the most painful question to a pilot. I was sharp and asked them straight WHAT DO THEY THINK HAPPENED TO MH-370?

    The pilot’s table become completely silent. Eyes were popping on, few jaws dropped, some shift-heads in em·bar·rass·ment!!

    Those guys were looking at me like I’m coming from Mars !

    I couldn’t resisted again, so I finished the “conversation” by saying : That’s what Ive though, you would ‘t know the plane was taken to Diego Garcia !

    I’m sure they were shocked and embarrass that anyone would dare to even asked such a question. I’m sure after my straight answer to myself they have thought that I’m a mental!

    So, here is happen again and it is very shameful situation …but not for me though, not for me !

    • Rod says:

      No, not for you I’m sure.

      And I definitely agree with you: nobody crashed an Airbus 340 into the Alps. We most certainly see eye to eye there.

      As for Diego Garcia, well … it’s such a vast territory that MH370 may still be lurking there hundreds of years from now and nobody will have stumbled across it yet.

      “Those guys were looking at me like I’m coming from Mars !”

      The very gall!

    • Eirik says:

      Interesting. I was going to reply, but after 10 minutes of thinking what to say, I just gave up.

      • John LM says:

        To quote Alec Baldwin in Beatljuice, ” These comments read like the instructions for a VCR”.

        • Ilea says:

          When people quote somebody else thoughts, is very clear that they don’t have thoughts in their own. I can see where you come from,so just to let you know , the MSM is the only one using the ancient VCR theology.

          Here is your perfect example of that

          The reality: The helicopter exploded in mid air, not once, but twice.The first explosion blew most of the body of the helicopter apart, and as it was falling there was a second explosion that was many times as powerful as the first explosion. This was an obvious hit on the Malaysian government. Of course not according to MSM and people like you who still using VCR ‘s

          They were so many witnesses were watching this helicopter fly over and directly saw the explosion, so I’m very curious how the zion press will explain that one !

        • Ilea says:

          I’d bet the French are going to investigate this “crash” because they did such a good job explaining how a suicide pilot did the last one.

    • Doug says:

      I concur. The current story makes little sense. The copilot supposedly gets the pilot to take a bathroom break, locks the door, manipulates the autopilot into a steep descent, then sits back and breaths normally for 8-10 minutes while the pilot is banging on the door, ATC is calling him on the radio, the passengers are screaming, and the ground is rushing up to him. Sure. No doubt the crash investigators will next claim to have found the joint he was smoking on the way down.
      The rush to judgement suggests there’s something being covered up here, and for many pilots and others, discretion is the better part of valor.

    • Paul Sainsbury says:

      If this was not so tragic, your comment would have been one of the funniest things I have read for several months.

  40. Stacey says:

    Well written, as always.
    We are kindred spirits you and I…
    “Do we really want to give up all personal privacy to combat the off chance that someone, somewhere, will do something, stupid?”

    I just want to tell all the people clamoring for “pilotless” planes to shut up and ask them who or what, they think would program or “fly” the planes that have no pilot? It comes down to trust. Always.

  41. John says:

    Does anybody know if pilot/passengers of GW may of been more successful trying to get through panels on either side of the door? Presumably, they wouldn’t of been strengthened as much as the cockpit door!

  42. Lou says:

    Your latest post is outstanding. And just what spin would CNN (Conjecture Not News) put on a future story when a pilot-less plane goes down. “Gee, was it a good decision to not put a pilot in the cockpit? blah blah blah…”

  43. 777 driver says:

    Excellent article – you expressed very eloquently many of the same thoughts I have been having. I am also particularly aggraved by the BBC reference to the pilot and the co-pilot: but then again what would you expect from journalists who exhibit a pitiful level of professionalism in there own profession, while criticising others.

  44. Matt says:

    Good article Patrick.
    I am a 40yr professional pilot, recently retired and I am very aware of the increasingly unbearable pressures on young pilots who have had to take enormous loans to follow their vocation.
    I list some below.

    In the UK a University graduate who becomes a pilot will probably have these stress factors:
    1. University loan £27000
    2. Loan for flying training £100,000 with no tax relief.
    3. Low pay
    4. Unlikely to afford House purchase
    5. If married with children no prospect of improving finances
    6. Extreme fatigue from companies using Flight Time Limitations (FTL’s) as Targets so almost every duty is at max length and every
    rest period is of minimum length.
    7. If taken ill with depression could be difficult to regain medical and Loss of Licence Insurance not payable for “mental” problems.

    Having worked in HKG Cathay Cadets/Second Officers
    have slightly different problems

    1. Any previous training loans
    2. a Cathay 6yr 600,000HKD bond
    3. Insufficient salary to live with a family
    4.Poor medical cover with no maternity cover
    5.Extreme fatigue from companies using Flight Time Limitations (FTL’s) as Targets so almost every duty is at max length and every
    rest period is of minimum length.
    6.If taken ill with depression could be difficult to regain medical and Loss of Licence Insurance not payable for “mental” problems.

    I have no knowledge of German conditions although it is common knowledge that Germanwings is planning to cut salaries, conditions and possibly jobs in
    the future.

    • Ramapriya says:

      I’m sure you have reasons for stating what you do but “low pay” and “insufficient salary to live with a family” but in my neck of the woods, anyone would swap his job with an airline pilot’s because of the pay.

      Apart from the love of flying itself, I’m sure that the remuneration is one big reason why you never hear of a qualified pilot doing anything but flying, whereas a mid-career switch isn’t uncommon in other walks of life.

      • Don Carnage says:

        You are completely FALSE on the pay levels of pilots. I have been at a Regional airline for almost 10 years…I know coworkers who have quit to become stay at home parents because the cost of child care is more then they will make at work. I also have around 50% of my coworkers carrying bags that are coolers because they bring food from home because they can’t afford to eat out during a trip. Many coworkers had $100,000 in student loans. We started at about $20,000 a year before taxes.

        So would you switch your current job, spend over 100k and a few years training without income, apply and get hired at a starting airline job and make 20k starting with over next 8 years averaging 30k to 35k a year while trying to move to a higher paying position? Not many people are anymore so go for it. We need you.

  45. Lou Maripolsky says:

    Dear Patrick,

    Thank you for this post. Thank you in particular for your observation that flying presents countless possible occurances. The state of the art of software, far from AI, can not replace a sentient skilled pilot. I was shicked that Boeing commented that single or pilotless operations are now a technical possiblity.

    You ire at the state of aviation reporting is easy to understand. Journalism has been replaced by pandering to willfull ignorance in al areas of public discourse.

    Keep up the excellent writing!

  46. dave says:

    With all the cost cutting by airlines are pilots under stress from reduced pay but increased workload. It happens in many other industries. Could it have caused this pilot to snap?

  47. Ian says:

    We all make assumptions. I assume that if I go downtown the next person I see on the sidewalk will not pull out a knife and eviscerate me. If I get on a plane I assume that the pilot will not deliberately fly the plane into a mountain. Realistically, there is nothing much I can do about either.

  48. Andrew says:

    A well written and non sensational piece as is Patrick’s trade mark. Here is a link to a well written piece on the subject of accurate journalism and where the media is headed to. Makes good reading, if only a one of few voices of sanity against the clatter of the media.

  49. elkhorn says:

    It seems to me that once again, people are trying to slam another barn door shut, in order to avert another one in a million tragedy – without considering the usual “unexpected consequences”…

    We put locked cockpit doors on planes, because terrorists crashed two planes into the WTC, after taking over the planes’ controls. And set the system up so that even legitimate attempts to open the locked cockpit door could be overridden by someone in the cockpit.

    Given this – what’s the point of having a member of the flight crew replace the pilot or first officer must leave it? Is that individual competent to control the plane? Has that person been trained on how to open the door (or override an overridden system)? It might work in the case when the pilot or first officer is incapacitated. But, not in the case where there is (for whatever reason) the person remaining in the cockpit determined to do something to the plane.

    Since there is already a cockpit locking mechanism, and a crew “door open request” and “emergency door open code”, it shouldn’t be too much additional to have a “big red button” / emergency cockpit lock override that does the following when activated:

    1) Start a 45 second countdown to open the cockpit door that can not be overridden from within the cockpit – but that CAN be overridden outside the cockpit — an “Oops” button, if you will;

    2) Activate a loud “wake the dead” (85db – 105db or so)level announcement stating something to the effect that “Unauthorized Cockpit entry is being attempted”;

    3) Immediately activate the plane’s transponder to send a “possible hijack in progress” code that can not be overridden;

    I don’t think that a system modification such as this would really be a boon to a potential hijacker / terrorist: I think that most passengers know that it’s entirely possible to swarm / incapacitate a person in such a situation.

    Plus, there seem to be a lot of passengers who fly with duct tape, given reports from other incidents. And a very loud announcement might even wake up a sleeping air marshal, should one be present on the flight.

  50. Speed says:

    Funny thing about “pilotless” airplanes. Some passengers are concerned that a “pilot error” could cause a crash. Other passengers are concerned that not having someone up front to take over when the automation fails would be a bad thing.

    News Media likes disaster and controversy.

    I like auto land capable automation AND having two qualified pilots up front. And fresh hot coffee served by a happy cabin crew which knows how to get 175 people out of an airplane in less than 90 seconds.

  51. Speed says:

    “A JetBlue Airways Corp. pilot whose erratic behavior forced the diversion of a flight from New York to Las Vegas in 2012 sued the airline for $14.9 million, claiming it shouldn’t have allowed him to fly. … [Clayton] Osbon claims in his complaint that a ‘complex partial brain seizure ’caused him to run down the plane’s aisle, screaming about religion and terrorist attacks before he was restrained by passengers. He said JetBlue’s failure to ground him before the flight caused him public embarrassment and the loss of his career and reputation.”

    • Seth Knoepler says:

      Thanks for sharing this information. I knew about the Osbon incident but not that he later sued JB for failing to ground him.

  52. Kozmo says:

    Right on, Patrick! I don’t know why Americans (especially) are so in love with stupid MACHINES and computers. The human being is the finest “machine” ever constructed, almost infinitely adaptable and versatile. There is no way automation could reliably replace a human pilot and absolutely NO WAY I would consent to ever fly in a plane without a human pilot IN the plane. These anti-human pilot bozos are hopelessly deluded.

  53. Mike Cumulus says:

    I was waiting for you to comment on the Germanwings crash. You are the consistent source of intelligent and knowledgeable aircraft information, unlike the mass media. Unfortunately, the pressure on media is to sensationalize the news to increase market share. News is more infotainment than factual reportage.

    I hadn’t read about automation as the culprit but the latest piece of speculation this morning was that Lufthansa doctored the cockpit voice recording and turned the blame toward the first officer to deflect the possibility that poor maintenance or age of aircraft was responsible for the disaster. As laughable as that may be, the conspiracy theorists will have something more to grasp onto.

  54. Corinne says:

    Maybe this wasn’t the time to lead with a rant about autopilot and planes without pilots. Maybe this post shouldn’t start with an attack on the news media. Maybe this one time you could have led with your empathy for the families and victims? Then you could go on to address the actual concern about the mental health of pilots and shared some non-judgmental insights into the regulatory process, and the self-policing within the profession for mental health, physical health, and addiction issues (more in the tone of your March 26 update.)
    Patrick, you know I love your column but this instinct to leap to the defense instead of stepping back and putting yourself (as you often do) in the shoes of the passengers isn’t your best self. Instead of providing your usual public service, this self-service is disappointing.

    • Patrick says:

      I understand your point Corinne, but this was the fourth update to this post since last week. I feel that the earlier iterations made clear my sympathies and underscored the tragedy of what happened. In any case, what’s so “self-serving” about trying to give people accurate information?

  55. Kevin brady says:


    Not sure what more I can add other than you are right on target. We see media overreaction to most everything. Take a look at politics. The love ensation,
    Not facts. Every day an average of over 100 people are killed incar accidents in the US alone. A wide body would have to crash every other day to equal car deaths, but that’s not sensational enough.

  56. Dear Patrick: Thanks. We shall meet one day, Pat !

  57. flymike says:

    Amen. Patrick sums it up nicely.

  58. Gemma says:


    For starters, who the hell wants people on the ground “piloting” the plane? I’d say the pilots on the plane can make better judgments and their lives are at stake too. And let’s not even get into terrorism.

    Even though this pilot was nuts and should not have been flying to begin with, I’d like for the pilot to have the last say on what the plane is going to do. I don’t care how good the computer is, in my opinion, the pilot needs to have the last call and control. No computer can match the human brain.

    That being said, I’d like you to explain if possible why the plane would have those alarms and that “Terrain pull up” thing, and still crash. Is that in case of an emergency landing or something like that? Given that we should assume that the pilot knows better and that is why it still crashed?

    About the co-pilot thing. That’s just a name. I doubt anybody would get on a plane thinking that the co-pilot is not a pilot capable of doing everything that the captain can do.

    The conclusion I get from this massacre is that Germany needs to realize that sometimes, some things, are more important than their right to privacy. It’s a suicidal pilot we are talking about. Maybe the “you could be a danger to yourself or others” should apply in Germany.

  59. LJT says:

    Well said!!!

  60. Brian says:

    I love your blog and I wish more newspapers carried it. It’s what the world needs to hear about flying.
    I’m not a pilot but I do love reading about aviation.
    But I must admit I thought the technology on planes were newer.
    Great article and I look forward to the next one.

  61. Scott H. says:

    Patrick, kudos for this article! BUT! Notwithstanding your fine defense of FOs in general, for example when you wrote, “I don’t want this to sound like an airline commercial or an FAA press release, but you can confidently presume that the people flying your plane are exactly what you expect them to be: well-trained professionals for whom safety is their first and foremost priority.”

    Sorry, what about Bonin, who managed to kill 228 people on Air France 447 through his incompetence? Er, “startle factor.” I know, many other factors were involved. I don’t want to fly with an FO who can’t really fly.

  62. Ramapriya says:

    It beggars belief that some airlines have introduced in their SOPs this requirement of always having two folk in the FD. Even with two jocks strapped into their seats, what if a suicidal cove puts the aircraft into a dive on finals when PF with not much altitude to recover? Thoughtless knee-jerkiness, I thought.

    It’s alarming how quickly the French prosecutor (who ain’t a crash investigator, mind you) has been keen to pillory and indict the FO. The chap was apparently breathing normally right up to the moment of impact, notwithstanding that in the clear dead of day he saw the humongous Alps loom larger and larger in front of him him at about 400 kt. Sounds like fiction, if not outright crock!

    • Gemma says:

      I’m thinking you probably have not been depressed. I have and I can see how he would be pretty calm seeing it all unfold and just waiting for it.

    • Kozmo says:

      But we have no idea what the first officer was really doing. He put his seat back. Perhaps he shut his eyes and just shut himself down. Once someone’s in that state of ind, who knows what’s going through his head? Maybe he was drugged or doped himself up before takeoff.

    • Doug says:

      You nailed it! The current story makes no sense at all! The rush to judgement suggests there’s something being covered up here.

      It strains credulity that the copilot would get the pilot to take a bathroom break, lock the door, manipulate the autopilot into a steep descent, then sit back and breath normally for 8-10 minutes with the pilot banging on the door, ATC calling him on the radio, the passengers screaming, and the ground rushing up to him. Sure. No doubt the crash investigators will next claim to have found the joint he was smoking on the way down.

  63. Pillai says:

    Patrick, bravo! Loved it, especially your passionate defense of your wonderful occupation. I expected you to write something like this, and your fellow pilots will thank you.

  64. Eric Auxier says:

    Excellent article, as always. As I mentioned in my Airways Op Ed piece, “Responsible Journalism and the Air Crash Du Jour,” ( in the desperate attempt to fill 24 hours of airtime, the media is quick to jump to conclusions, and then play Judge, Jury and Executioner. They not only take the ball and run with it, they cross the goal line, run out of the stadium and into the woods.

    We still have only the tiniest morsel of information, improperly leaked, and this has been where all the wild speculation has emanated. The First Officer has already been convicted of High Treason by the world court of opinion, thanks to CNN et al. I hold out hope that we eventually discover other factors, such as hypoxia, may have played a role.

    I invite you to join our “Blogging in Formation” team of 8 pilot-bloggers as we discuss these very issues. This month, Ron Rapp will be hosting the discussion at his site, House of Rapp (

    Thank you for this timely piece!

    Eric “Cap’n Aux” Auxier
    A320 Captain

  65. Traci says:

    I wish there was a like button. What Richard said.

  66. Richard says:

    One of the arguments people are using about pilotless cockpits is that we already have drones. To put it as politely as possible, this is a pathetic argument.

    Commercial aviation, as we all know, is INCREDIBLY safe as it is – with pilots. For there to be any chance of switching to pilotless aircraft, then pilotless aircraft would need to be not just safe, but safer than piloted aircraft – with passengers.

    And that is a key component – drones and commercial aircraft with passengers have completely different safety goals. Drones do crash, even though they make up a small amount of air traffic. The safety requirements are completely different though. If a drone has a failure (engine failure, communication failure, etc) – there’s a very simple failsafe which is to aim for any unpopulated area and crash. That’s easy to do, and easy to write software for.

    What’s much harder – and with our current level of technology and infrastructure I would say impossible (and I’m saying that as an aviation software engineer) – is to ensure that after a failure of the aircraft, the plane still has a better chance of LANDING safely than if a pilot is at the helm.

  67. Richard says:

    I wonder if part of the confusion about pilotless planes comes from the phrase “planes fly themselves”. Because to a large extent, that’s true – it’s just that that’s not a new concept. Planes ALWAYS largely fly themselves, because that’s how they work. If you have thrust and lift, you have flight. That’s why the first ‘autopilot’ was purely mechanical – under normal circumstances, only (relatively) minor adjustments are required to keep level, straight and smooth flight. It’s when unexpected or complicated things happen that a pilot is needed to CONTROL the plane, not just fly it.

    • Don Carnage says:

      Planes don’t fly themselves. If you put you car on cruise control and take a nap will you arrive at your destination? Not on a plane either. Autopilots are for reducing workload and fatigue, which increases safety.

      • Richard says:

        Yes I know it won’t get there if no one is controlling it – that’s my point. But unless it stalls, it’s still flying even if no one is controlling it. In my opinion on the definition of the words, putting either on “cruise control” and then leaving the controls – a plane would still be flying, but a car would no longer be being driven. But perhaps “being flown” implies control as well. It was just a thought.

  68. Fred Wallis says:

    Pat,when you and I worked together 20 years ago I remember when the Co. Issued us cell phones and had us send the pagers back in.Technology has come a long way since then.Just did a fibre optics course on EFVS here in CGN.There was some discussion about commercial drone aircraft and the instructor was somewhat convincing on that future.Apperently Amazons drone division is located in Washington state next door to Boeing and their devilery drones are just a matter of time and your least favourite aircraft,freighters are not far behind.It probably won’t happen in our lifetime,but it will happen.Sorry buddy.That said,I agree with your comments about the idiot media which is totally clueless about aviation.The talking heads at CNN are the worst.CGN the home of German Wings,an excellent airline is devestated by this tragedy.Fred

  69. CJ says:

    In reference to the “planes fly themselves” issue, I think aviators and the industry need to condense the idea into something easily grasped. No, it shouldn’t be that way, but as a former journalist (of no real note), I can tell you the news business, especially 24 hr channels don’t do nuance well. Part of it is the name, “autopilot”, of course. But, in the spirit of cooperation, Patrick, if you have not already, I suggest developing a 10-words-or-less description of the process. Something like, “auto pilot is like cruise control in your car” – hopefully better than that.

    • Richard says:

      Well you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head. This thing called ‘autopilot’ is a multitude of different systems. Cars don’t just have cruise control. They have ABS, fuel injection, stability control, reversing cameras, entertainment systems… All of these are controlled by computers. (yes, we are getting close to driverless car, but a car has an obvious failsafe – stop – which is exactly what they do when confused. Planes don’t have that luxury)

  70. doug says:

    My Dad was a single-engine private pilot and often bemoaned the same misinformed public that you do. I myself started out in a technical career as well — film & video — and spent much of my adult life bemoaning the general public’s ignorance of how a movie gets made. This extends from total technical ignorance such as that evidenced in news articles about “The Jinx” — the Robert Durst documentary recently seen on HBO — in which audio recordings are presumed to stop and are not monitored or controlled by sound recordists … to general critical comments on a movie, where bad dialog is blamed on actors, decisions about camerawork and editing are blamed on directors, when it is a studio MBA-trained non-filmmaker who mangled the movie for marketing reasons. So I know where you’re coming from.

    So please explain to me, in technical terms but that a layperson might reasonably comprehend:

    — What is with software so dumb that you can set the autopilot to “descend,” program in the altitude as the minimum (“96 feet” is what I read in a Times article) … and the autopilot says, “Okay!” and executes this descent over the Alps?

    The ordinary consumer might comment, “My freaking smartphone knows exactly where I am at all times, even without wifi turned on. If I start typing “home depot” into my Maps app, it instantly shows me “Home Depot, Your Town” and Home Depot, Adjacent Town” — long before it begins listing Home Depots in other states.

    So why does a plane on autopilot not refuse this inane command, e.g. “Sorry, your requested descent to 96 feet is inappropriate. That rate of descent from your current location will result in a terrain conflict at the altitude of 6,000 feet above sea level.”

    In fact, even the manual controls should refuse to do it. The goddam GPS can easily see that you might be TRYING to land, but that you cannot because the terrain everywhere around you is the Alps. Just Say No!

    Even a digital camera forces you to go through three confirmations before erasing your memory card with all the photos. When you try to format the card, the default choice is “Cancel” so that if you are racing through the commands, clicking “OK” you will just cancel out your formatting. You must decide to use your arrow controls to actually, consciously move over to the “Confirm” choice BEFORE you then press “OK.”

    The difference of course is that, if I really hate my photos, ultimately the camera will allow me to override its warning and erase the card. But an airliner should require you to PROVE you have a viable “escape plan” before agreeing to fly you into a mountain. A simple “Because I said so” from the pilot does not seem like enough validation.

    In this case, perhaps an illogical or out-of-flight-plan command should be okayed by BOTH pilots, like the nuclear events that require TWO keys. I know, I know, one pilot has a heart attack and the other has to pull an emergency sequence, WITHOUT other validation. So then what?

    I don’t know the answer, but the industry needs to do a better job explaining what the real questions are, if not these. The statistics answer is not good enough. People take their lives in their hands, in a much deadlier statistical environment, when they drive a car. That doesn’t mean I accept the level of ignorance of the rules, selfish and dangerous driving, aggressive driving and road rage that could ALL be better policed, to a more profitable ticketing and fine result for the states, and to a safer drive for all of us.

    Auto manufacturers are constantly trying to implement things like “lane” and drift or collision warnings into consumer vehicles. So what’s the story on airliner “bad decision” or “intentional” crash prevention?

    • Eirik says:

      Basically, what you are asking for, is a bullet proof world, which is never going to happen.

      First of all, no matter how you program your car, there is nothing that can stop you from driving your car in 90 mph into a mountain or off a cliff, even though you already programmed it to find the closest Home Depot.

      The GPS would keep reminding you that you are off course (next left…next right, go back), just like this plane did (pull up, pull up!!), but as long as you are in control and really want to do bad things….sorry dude, you made your decision.

      Which brings us to the next point; what if a plane was programmed to go to a certain destination. During the flight they experience problems and the pilots needs to find an alternative airport to land.
      The only runway they can reach is (according to safety instructions) too short, but its their only option and its still good enough to avoid a total disaster. Much better than crashing the plane into a mountain or landing in the middle of the ocean. Then the autopilot (doomsday machine) tell them they cant land there cause the runway is too short…

      I mean, where do you wanna draw the line? How much should be up the humans to decide and when is it time for the robot to take a break and leave this to the ones who can actually THINK on their own?

      And please dont say that pilots may be mentally ill and we need to protect ourselves from them. That is simply NOT true. So please get rid of the paranoia.

  71. Pierre says:

    I know it is from CNN, but I had to send you this article .

    It does not get better…

    • Eirik says:

      The whole “logic” behind this makes absolutely no sense at all.
      And lets be honest. Why do we even have this discussion? Obviously they think that all pilots are ticking time bombs and that threat needs to be removed.

      No matter how you make that plane get from A to B, you need human inputs, either its pilots on board the plane or people on the ground.
      So why exactly would we be more safe using people on the ground?
      Because they would NEVER become mentally unstable and crash the plane?

      There is so much more to say about this, but I`ll stop here.

  72. aisle075 says:

    If he did it, and that looks increasingly likely, I suggest that besides suicide, his motive was to destroy Germanwings and Lufthansa.

    In the past your blog and certainly the comments, have often raised the abominable pay and conditions of junior aircrew with the “low budget” airlines. That can be extended to cabin crew as well. Thanks to the endless appetite of the flying public for ever lower prices.

    I think that was Lubitz’ motive, his grudge. He realised that once it had been shown that he killed 149 people, the claims against Lufthansa would bankrupt it, which they may well do. Thereby he will have his revenge, as he would see it.

    Once again, proceeding from my initial hypothesis, he would have regarded the passengers and crew he killed as innocent lambs for slaughter, which is why he put the aircraft into quite a gentle descent not a dive. He didn’t want unknowing passengers to suffer fear as far as he could avoid, or be thrown around before impact. They were just a means toward an end.

    That end may now be played out as it transpires whether Lufthansa will survive the onslaught of claims.

    • Rod says:

      “He didn’t want unknowing passengers to suffer fear as far as he could avoid, or be thrown around before impact.”

      Their screams are audible on the CVR. So much for that notion.

      Lubitz was mentally ill, something he wasn’t going to be able to hide forever. He may have been losing his eyesight as well. Either would have meant the end of his career.
      He went round the bend.

      These weren’t the best of times for Lufthansa anyway, which had been suffering a series of aircrew strikes.

      Possibly this hair-raising disaster will lead to some soul-searching about a lot of things in this inceasingly lean’n’mean business. With any luck, Michael O’Leary will walk the plank. 🙂

  73. swamp says:

    BUAP and fly-by-wire technology. QRS-11 Gyrochip.
    They have been covering this up for years. Patents are on file.

  74. Patrick,
    Your most recent post concerning journalist induced errors in the conversation is correct from start to end. Thanks for setting the record straight. The general public has only the vaguest idea of what commercial aviation is about and even less about the sub category of safety. Attention to these matters is only wakened at times of unusual events, which Germanwings certainly is. Good luck trying to correct the record it will take someone with your determination and tenaciousness.

  75. No procedure in the world will be able to ensure the absence of unexpected, especially when it comes to human emotions. In fact I think that relationship with procedures has a role in this affair. Control, for Andreas, was probably a mode of managing his emotions, as well as a job. But control is an illusion: what we hold firm to the legs is stirred by the tail.

    But you can not only control the emotion. For example, you can talk abouth them, you can separate yourself from them.
    So I wonder if a problem of the Airlines, now, is to provide contexts in which this is possible.
    As well as introduce new rules and procedures (I think it’s right that the command of an aircraft does not remain never alone, for many reasons, not only for fear that someone is malicious) they might take note that the work of pilots and Cabin crew is hard work and rapidly changing. A job that involves a high responsibility and at the same time bound to rigid procedures. A job that entails to relate to emotions of fear, his own and of the passengers, and the procedures are not sufficiently reassuring about fear. A job that quickly loses social prestige and whose conditions are often difficult to reconcile with any family.

    Then a good idea would be to offer these workers some spaces of thought on their work and on the experiences involved: the relationship with the procedures, with responsibility, with the experiences and proposals of the passengers.
    Provide space to talk about the problems encountered in their work might be the disavowal that their work environment does not accept emotion, thinking emotion just need to be controlled, hidden, suppressed, silenced; in the hope that does not explode.

    Deepening ( It ) :

  76. Jeremy Sanford says:

    “The past ten years have been the safest, statistically, in the history of modern civil aviation, and there hasn’t been a major crash involving a U.S. passenger carrier in fourteen years — the longest such streak ever.”

    There were crashes in Buffalo (2009) and Lexington (2006), each killing 49 people, each involving U.S. passenger carriers. I couldn’t agree more with the claim that air travel is quite safe, but I disagree that drawing dubious distinctions between “major” and “minor” crashes or airlines is the best way to get the point across. Why not point out that this century, there have been an average of about 600M passengers/year getting on planes in the US with fewer than 100/year dying in crashes, meaning the fatality rate from air travel has been less than 1 in 6M, even including the 9/11 attacks. Over the same time period, car accidents have killed more than 1 in 1000 people in the US each year, something like 39K people/year.

  77. Afvoyes Bonaf says:

    I am concerned by the suggestion that a ‘random’ member of cabin staff be used to substitute for a pilot requiring to exit cabin for whatever reason. Are all cabin staff as closely and regularly evaluated as pilots with regard ‘terrorism links’ and ‘mental health’?
    This ‘solution’ appears to me to represent a bigger threat than that which we have recently observed.
    There is also the question of whether this substitute would even be able to recognise misuse of the controls and be physically capable of restraining a ‘rogue’ pilot ultimately.
    I personally would much prefer to see an Air Marshall used in this capacity.

    • JuliaZ says:

      Air marshalls cost a lot of money to hire and train and they are not on every single flight at present; what you’re suggesting is very impractical. Do you really want to increase the price of EVERY ticket 1-2% and decrease the number of seats available by one on EVERY flight? Do you want them to hold the flight if an air marshal is not available at time of departure? Cancel it? Flight attendants cost a lot of money and they ARE on every flight already. They are not certified pilots (with rare exceptions, I’m sure) but they are highly trained and understand safety protocols very well.

      You’re talking about five minutes or less most of the time and they would not be pressed into service on every flight. I’m somewhat insulted on their behalf that you think they are likely to be terrorists or to have mental-health issues. They seem much more likely to be stable than many other professionals because the job is quite demanding (the weak ones don’t last), and certainly the general flying public is less stable. FAs already have to deal with unruly passengers and have proved very capable of this time and again.

      I am really pleased for flight attendants to be protecting me in this way, in what is already a very unlikely situation (dangerous pilot). I hope this becomes universal policy very soon, if it has not already. Is it perfect protection? No, of course not. But I’d rather have a very human, very skilled crew at the helm instead of a drone pilot far away… normal flight might be great for a drone-piloted plane, but when something goes wrong, I want human experience and good judgment saving my life.

    • Rod says:

      You know, a “random” flight attendant would presumably be able to open the door if he/she saw fit. I think this is a reasonable precaution and that we should then all calm the hell down.

    • Eirik says:

      Im just curious why you would think an Air Marshal is less likely to be mental or suicidal than a member of the flight crew?
      And why would an Air Marshal be better fit to discover misuse of flight controls?

      Lets not stigmatize a whole group of people based on this single incident. Personally, I would trust both the flight crew and an Air Marshal.

      I think the whole “mental” thing is getting out of hand and it sounds like the media would like to evaluate all flight crews around the world.
      What about bus drivers, train crew, crews on passenger ships? Should we not evaluate those too? Heck, lets all get a mental evaluation and get it over with.

  78. Eirik says:

    So, since they are already spending so much time in the media talking about “remote control”. Even if they put such a system on all commercial planes, how is this going to work? A few examples;

    – The pilots pass out for some reason, like the Helios flight, ground can take control and land the plane safely. In such a situation it would be a good thing.

    – But what it we have another situation like Germanwings; a crazy pilot, or maybe both of them, is trying to crash the plane. Ground discover there is something wrong and they take over control.

    1) Will they be able to take control even if the pilots decline their request, or whatever the term is? Can the pilots still take back control? If so, whats the point?

    2) Or what if the person on the ground is a nuthead and he take control of a random plane and try to crash it? Can the pilots take back control and avoid a disaster? I mean, the chance of getting a lunetic at the control on the ground is much higher that any pilot wanting to crash his own plane. And the guy on the ground can crash the plane and still be alive himself. Not to mention if terrorists are able to get access to a control center like that and start dropping planes all over the place.

    Any experts on the field who can add some thoughts?

  79. ben says:

    hey, thanks for your blog. would it have been possible for passengers to open exit door and jump out before the crash?

  80. Baron says:

    Simple question. Can a member of the crew gain access to cockpit if the door is locked? It is my believe that there is a “secret” way.

    • Rod says:

      If there were, then the Germanwings crash wouldn’t have occurred. In fact, Andreas Lubitz (and presumably the captain of MH370) obviously would never have attempted to commit the act in this way.

    • Siegfried says:

      According to what I read on the German news (I cannot confirm this information due to lack of knowledge):

      There are two access codes for crew members to enter the flight deck:
      (1) The crew member outside types in the normal access code, the crew member inside the flight deck gets a picture of whoever is standing in front of the door and opens the door from inside.
      (2) The crew member outside types in an override access code which opens the door from outside. However, the crew member inside the flight deck is still able to block this access.

      By all information available at this time, the 1st officer inside the flight deck must have used this blocking mechanism to keep the captain out of the flight deck.

      • Rod says:

        Right, the captain was hammering away at it with a fire axe, shouting “Mach die verdammte Tür auf!!” So yes, the FO used the blocking mechanism, which worked perfectly.
        He certainly was right when he told his girlfriend he was going to do something that would change the system.

  81. Dan Renner says:

    Thank you for writing this. Many people become easily swept into the media frenzy and forget that the media makes a living by providing the dramatic, the horrific and the shocking. I’ve noticed a decided lack of caution from the media on this story. Articles written about the First Officer include “it is claimed”, “others have stated”, and many, many other indications of pure hearsay. That’s not only sloppy and unprofessional, but should the evidence begin to show a story contrary to the one being filled in so heavily by the media, most people will be less inclined to believe it, no matter how much emerging evidence may eventually show the story being spooled to have been released pre-maturely. I’m not suggesting that the First Officer didn’t do this, but I think it’s prudent not to accuse, try, and convict him in the media alone.

  82. Grant says:

    Patrick – just wanted to say a quick word of thanks for speaking out on CNN’s Don Lemon show the other night. As a veteran aviation safety professional & air accident investigator, I have become increasingly disturbed by the widespread discussion of safety sensitive material, groundless speculation, & outright misinformation being touted by the media & it’s self-appointed ‘experts.’ Cuedos to Capt. Tilmon for speaking out, too! Cheers, and safe skies!

  83. John says:

    Huh, you’d think the cockpit axe would be IN the cockpit, not on the passenger side of things somewhere. I suppose it’d be for an emergency along these lines but still, not effective against a reenforced Kevlar door. I thought that was odd but didn’t want to post somewhere I’d have to sift through Internet chaff about Democrats, Republicans; or Jeremy Clarkson this week. Nice, calm vibe here…

    I’ve taken to watching fantastic 30s’,40s’ and 50s’ airplane/airport films (to get this week’s bad taste off my palette,) such as –
    Wings for Roger Windsock
    Letter from an Airline Pilot
    The Airport
    Nonstop New York
    6 1/2 Magic Hours – Pan Am Clipper Service (Oooo, sexy Boeing 707 footage!)

    Really nifty Army (yes, Army) B-17 training videos too! YouTube search “AIRBOYD” (not affiliated at all) for hundreds of really fun, old, campy aviation films & shorts, vintage educational material and videos of hairy but safe crosswind landings of the crazy ole’ Kai Tak checkerboard approach.

    Everyone get some rest and hug your loved ones!

  84. dave says:

    They should immediately go back to three pilots in the cockpit. Our drive for cheap air travel has stopped this but this type of tragedy is preventable. They should have this mandated immediately. If cockpits can’t hold three pilots then they should be retrofitted and all new planes should allow for three. And put the washrooms in the cockpit so they never have to venture out.

    • Rod says:

      And why not sonic-electronic ball-breakers that can be activated from the ground if they show any signs of ill-temper? No. One bad apple (or two) shouldn’t be allowed to stigmatize and juvenilize an entire profession.

      Seems to me that the flight-attendant-on-flightdeck-during-toilet-breaks measure is justified simply on the grounds that a single pilot might have more pressing things to do than stand up, turn around and peer through the spy-hole.

    • Patrick says:

      There hasn’t been a three-pilot cockpit designed since the early 1970s. The idea of going back to three-pilot cockpits is a nonstarter.

      And many cockpits are simply much too small for a lavatory. Take a look into a 737 cockpit some time. And what would you propose on long-haul flights when there are multiple pilots working in shifts, and sleep breaks are mandated? Even on the largest planes it would be completely impossible to fit two bunks, a changing room, and a lavatory into a cockpit, along with the auxiliary jumpseats, a place for luggage, and all the other necessary space, without completely redesigning the forward section of the plane. Sequestering pilots in the cockpit is not a practical or helpful reaction to this or any other tragedy.

    • Lee says:

      Not the best idea you’ve ever had, Dave. The idea is to make it safe for the crew to leave the cockpit, not assume it’s unsafe. Equipping the crew with tasers gives the crew a way to maintain control of the aircraft in the event of violence. Reinforcing the cockpit doors was a boneheaded idea that came out of the Bush-Cheney administration – it ranks up there with taking off your shoes and throwing out a sealed bottle of water.

  85. dave says:

    He had only 630 hours of flying time? That is too little to be co piloting a plane.

  86. Rod says:

    Peter Garrison is a wonderful writer, and his article contains enough caveats to keep him well off Patrick’s who-to-shoot-first-after-the-revolution list.

    I think highly of JuliaZ’s post.

    Heartily agree with cmurf: “Flight attendant in the cockpit when a pilot leaves – this seems easy, cheap, practical, and effective. Even if it’s may not be 100% effective seeing as there have been successful mass murder suicides even with a sane pilot in the cockpit fighting the deranged one. However, it significantly improves the odds and if nothing else it’s a better way to regain access than code alone.”

    As for SilkAir, please, the 737’s yaw-damper problem put that theory out of its misery years ago, didn’t it?

    If you’re a suicidal nut in the US, you buy an automatic weapon and amble down to the local McDonald’s to shoot 19 bystanders then yourself.
    But this guy had a much better weapon, his airplane.

    MH370 feeds into this story, just as this story will affect thinking about MH370. Selah.

    In the meantime, having a member of the cabin crew wait on the flight deck during the toilet breaks seems the best way to go.

  87. Scotty says:

    Lately, I’ve been inundated with questions about this German Regional Airline crash; If you’re interested in what I think about it, please be aware that I could only offer a scenario that would be strictly imaginary. Granted, my imagination might be backed by professional insights and knowledge since I’ve been an airline pilot for nearly 27 years, but I’ll make clear up front that without any specific, legitimate facts or data to go on, resulting from a thorough and professionally-managed investigation, anything I might have to say would be pure speculation and would only be the byproduct of what my imagination could dream up and it would have nothing to do with reality. Would this be, in any way, useful to anybody? Absolutely not…unless you’re a lawyer representing clients who have a monetary claim against the airline involved and you want to build a spectacular story for a jury that can be followed as intently and as easily as a movie plot. Which is precisely what’s going on right now. Every report that has been issued in the media frenzy that has followed this horrible event has been prefaced with the words “Prosecutors say…”. That is not how a proper airline accident investigation is done. This tragedy happened only a few days ago, and there just isn’t any possible way that enough pieces of information from the DFDR or CVR evidence, airframe and systems analysis and so on could be assembled in such a short period of time to draw a conclusive picture of what actually happened. An airline accident investigation is a very complex affair that can take months, if not years, to complete and determine all of the factors that contributed to this crash. Any information that gets “leaked” out in the immediate aftermath of an accident should be met with absolute suspicion, particularly if the source of speculation is coming primarily from parties with damage claims involved. If we can even trust that the pilot may have suffered from depression, for example, what exactly does this tell us about the accident without any knowledge of all of the other pertinent factors that only an investigation can uncover? Jumping to the conclusion that the pilot was suicidal makes for splashy headlines, but there’s no evidence that depression necessarily causes violent behavior. Couldn’t it also mean (if it’s true) that if there was a catastrophic systems failure on board, like a dual-engine failure, it could be conceivable that this pilot had just shut-down mentally in fear or denial, or he became overwhelmed and simply passed out? Maybe depression or passing out had nothing to do with it. Starting a descent would be exactly what one would do to maintain airspeed without power. Could he have been so compartmentalized trying to restart an engine that he was unaware of other things going on around him? Again, this is all just pure speculation…none of it could be true. How would I or anyone else know right now? My point here is that NOBODY KNOWS AT THIS POINT. The media is reporting everything as fact. The truth is, very little of it is, and what might actually be factual may have no bearing on the ultimate cause of this crash. There are devastated families whose closure depends on the truth, there are professional reputations on the line and industry-wide policies at stake here with global implications, and all of this speculation is reckless and could have very serious consequences that may be determined solely by the fantasies that are being promulgated right now. All of these media-fueled rumors and wild speculations can ultimately, I’m afraid, undermine aviation safety, not enhance it. This is exactly why the Air Line Pilots Association has advised our membership not to join in the speculation. I agree and personally refuse to participate in it. If you want my opinion, wait until the accident report comes out in a year or so, and ignore everything going on right now.

  88. Russell Thomas says:

    I’m curious about the cockpit door seeming to be “unbreachable”. There had to have been some objects on available to those trying to break down the door to successfully do it. Smashing an oxygen tank against it for instance and I would bet there are locked compartments on every plane with tools of some kind. Also, isn’t there supposed to be an undercover airline cop with a gun often on the plane who could have shot through the lock of the door? There had to have been objects on the plane to create a makeshift crowbar etc. So my question is, “Is the cockpit door impossible to break down since the changes made after 911?” Aside from a metal safe, it would seem any door can be broken down if someone wanted to badly enough. Your thoughts “ask the pilot?”

  89. Jeffrey Burr says:

    Here we go again. It never stops. In an article in the New Yorker sparked by this tragedy, John Cassidy writes:

    “In some ways, human pilots have become systems managers. They prepare the aircraft to depart, execute the takeoff and landing, and take the controls in an emergency. But for much of the time that a routine flight is in the air, a computer flies the plane.”

    At least in his case he actually acknowledges that pilots “execute the takeoff and landing”, but as if it’s a small thing. Oh, that.

    Yes I think it’s fairly common for job advertisements for “system managers” to include, right after “must have IT background”, “need networking skills”, lines like “must also be seasoned pilot capable taking off and landing a massive and sophisticated commercial airliner in any weather”.

  90. Janek says:

    Here is a data visualization of the flight parameters that were transmitted during the last 20 minutes by the aircraft via its ADS-B transponder:

  91. crella says:

    “Shouldn’t the veil of medical privacy be pierced to protect the public? I think doctors should have to report pilot’s illnesses that make them unfit to fly to their country’s equivalent of the FAA.”

    I was thinking the same thing this morning, when I read the news that he had thrown out doctor’s notes. How can the doctors expect a person who isn’t well to pass those notes on to the company? That’s a huge risk to take, and in this case it was tragic. Doctors should have a duty to report mental illness in pilots to the airlines, or the governing body of that country. In the US dementia advanced enough to preclude driving has to be reported, as others are put in danger. However, perhaps a diagnosis would not be sufficient, some people bounce back fairly quickly. In this case, the pilot was told he was ‘unfit for work’…in that case I think authorities should be notified.

  92. Jackie says:

    Germanwings Airbus A320 Crash Audio Recording –

  93. Armin says:

    A few questions: Was there anything at all that the captain could have done to avert the disaster once he was locked out? Was there any chance at all he could have broken through the door in time? What would you have done in his situation?

  94. Eirik says:

    Look at this moron. CNN does it again.

    What exactly is he trying to prove by putting on his hiking gear, jumping rocks to cross a river (ooh, scary, Karl!) and “climbing mountains”? Jeez.

    I wish the rescue workers spotted him. They would probably think “who the heck is that idiot and what is he doing???”

    As if the whole thing is not dramatic and tragic enough, CNN just have to take it to “the next level”. Excuse my language, but first thing that comes to mind; fucking idiots.

  95. Tracey says:


    Thanx for all you say and write about air travel. (And music/travel experiences). I am one of those who absolutely hate flying. And your commonsense observations settle me down during take off and landing and turbulence.

    For what it’s worth to you and other pilots—Andreas was one crazy guy. And the whole situation extraordinary…senseless…horrific. And sad. I believe pilots give their best to us—their passengers.


  96. The following is the naked truth about the flight GOL 1907, that one involving the Legacy jet from Embraer. The recordings show the two American pilots were clearly lost and their mistakes — not intentionally of course — culminating in the death of 154 people. It totally showed how partial the American justice is and you would think the 1st world justice would be better.

    By the way, on this Germanwings, it is simple. The guy was depressed and that is what happens. Period. In his “misleading depressive judgment” he probably thought he was doing the other people a favor. He brought the Judgment Day on them.

  97. roger thompkinson says:

    this plane had fly wire capability known fact can be flown by wire they are saying france had the passwords for the software to teach germany a lesson or could be usa using passwords for false flag to blame russia as they want russia zapped

  98. JuliaZ says:
    If this is true, that Lubitz destroyed doctor’s notes that said he was unfit to work, shouldn’t this force changes to medical reporting responsibilities. Shouldn’t the veil of medical privacy be pierced to protect the public? I think doctors should have to report pilot’s illnesses that make them unfit to fly to their country’s equivalent of the FAA. The US has mandatory reporting laws for any professionals who work with children who suspect abuse; maybe similar laws should be written to cover this admittedly rare scenario?

    Seriously, why on earth would Lubitz turn those notes in if they meant he would lose his job? Very few people would do well under that sort of honor system. And now 149 people are dead… doesn’t that doctor have a little blood on the hands?

    It’s a fine balance, privacy and public safety, but it seems that something needs to change. That actually seems simpler than retrofitting all cockpit door locks with a fancy lock-out override yet to be invented.

    • Eirik says:

      Valid points, and Im sure there are lots of things that can be done to improve the system when it comes to mental issues. The problem however, is that you are dealing with mentally unstable humans. I mean, what should the threshold be? Lock them in and keep them there as soon as you notice something unusual about them? What if he did lose his job over this? Who knows, maybe he would crash a Cessna into a packed football stadium instead, as revenge. Sounds far fetched, but he killed all those people, right? So who knows.

      Point is, no matter how hard you try, there will always be other incidents that force you to make more changes. You remove one threat and another one pops up in ways you would never imagine. Its extremely hard to fight this kind of illness.

      • JuliaZ says:

        I agree that there must be some threshold, and obviously, there already is. I bet Patrick could shed some light on this, or maybe some Googling would end up with something approaching accurate.

        In this case, the pilot in question was declared medically unfit for work. I don’t care what the criteria are, and maybe they vary country to country, though I have been impressed with how uniform airline regulations.

        If declared unfit for work, that finding should be filed by the physician making that determination with the governing authorities for flight in that country. No turning in of notes! Come on, that’s middle school stuff, and clearly can have serious consequences.

        Will this prevent every mental-health related tragedy? Of course not. Humans are fallible. But let’s grab the low-hanging fruit and close a nasty procedural loophole. Otherwise, why bother with the pilot health examinations at all? Presumably, they are intended mostly to protect or reassure the flying public and the airlines that employ the pilots.

  99. D Stover says:

    Perhaps it would be easier, in this case, to regard the copilot as the captain’s equal if he’d had the same 6,000+ hours of flying time. Putting anyone with 630 hours of flight time in charge of a large passenger plane seems misguidedly optimistic. It does little to buttress Mr. Smith’s continuing insistence that we automatically accord copilots the same respect we give captains.

    • Eirik says:

      Im sure you understand there is a difference between a highly experienced “co pilot” and a “rookie”. However, he would not be in that seat if he was not able to handle the plane during a 3 minute toilet visit by the Captain.
      Everyone has to start somewhere and unfortunately there are no pilot who gets 10000 hours “for free”. You live and learn, just as in any other job.

      • D Stover says:

        Not in the United States, where that number of hours wouldn’t get you near this kind of plane. Part of what one gains over time (flying hours), presumably, is the ability to earn increased trust. Lubitz was trusted too much too soon. If that hadn’t happened, the 149 people he took to their graves would still be alive.

        • Anonymous says:

          Correct me if Im wrong, but I think some airlines, like Lufthansa, Emirates and maybe others too have their own academies where they hand pick their pilots and, I think, even pay for some of their education – and they are guaranteed a job as long as they complete the training.
          In such cases its normal for a pilot to have less hours than, like you say, a US pilot who gets a private license and then have to start the long journey of getting enough hours.

          But anyway, it wasnt lack of hours and experience that brought down this plane.

          • Patrick says:

            Not Emirates, but Lufthansa/Germanwings is one of them, yes. These are called “ab-initio” training programs, where select young pilots with no prior experience are groomed specifically for employment with that carrier. They advance very quickly and take cockpit positions with comparatively small amounts of experience. The Germanwings first officer had 600 hours total. At the carrier I work for, here in the U.S., a new-hire first officer right now has an average of 8,000 hours.

        • Catherine says:

          Agreed. He may have been qualified to operate the controls and fly the plane, which I don’t believe is in great dispute. On the job experience, trust, loyalty and integrity in a position of so much power is just as important. But there is no guarantee even that will prevent pilot mass murder-suicide as we have seen with EgyptAir, SilkAir, MH370, etc. And those pilots were not necessarily “mentally ill” (unless you argue that anyone who commits mass murder and suicide are mentally ill). I am comfortable with the two people in the cockpit rule that is being implemented and in Canada, at least, mandated.

  100. John Downing says:

    As of today (March 27th), it appears that the crash of Germanwings 9525 was deliberate. But I am curious, why no mention of a post-crash fire? I don’t think I’ve heard mention of fire at all. Am I missing something?

  101. Alex says:

    Even a (former) commercial pilot gets in on the pilot/co-pilot act:

    I’m wondering why the Times didn’t ask Patrick to write the op-ed.

  102. JamesP says:

    Oh, Boy… from some guy named Peter Garrison:

    “From shortly after takeoff to shortly before touchdown, airplanes fly themselves while pilots talk with controllers and one another and punch data into flight management systems.”

    I immediately thought of Patrick going apeshit.

    Apparently, Mr. Garrison is a pilot but I have to wonder if he’s ever flown a commercial jetliner.

    • Eirik says:

      Im sure Patrick has a lot he would like to say about this, and he already did several times, but if I may.

      The whole idea of not having pilots in the planes, which I guess this is about, is just ridiculous. And the so-called experts must have forgotten that a flight from A to B is much more than what happens right after take off and before landing.

      Let`s say you are driving your car from A to B and as soon as you reach the highway, you activate your cruise control to keep your car at 80 mph. You still have to consider road condition, other traffic, weather in general and so on. Do they really think that a computer and/or a “drone pilot” on the ground is going to be able to handle all that, compared to having pilots in the plane? And since they would need a pilot anyway, why not keep them in the plane instead of on the ground. It just doesnt make any sense at all.

      And how are you going to take the plane from the gate to the runway, from engine start up, push back, manuever the plane safely through all those complicated taxiways? And then “hold short of 26R due to other traffic”?
      There are so many (unforeseen) things that`s going on both on the ground and in the air and there is absolutely nothing that can replace the eyes and ears of the pilots in the cockpit. Maybe in the year of 2250, but not even close in this day and age.

      Sometimes I wonder if these experts have been playing Flight Simulator and just because they were able to take a plane all the way from the gate at one airport to the next, they think this can be done in real life too.

      • MS42 says:

        Yes, yes, yes, let’s take the ‘cruise control’ automobile gadget to the extreme and pretend they completely remove any person from ‘piloting’ the car. I certainly hope the autonomous cars of the future include a ‘takeover’ ability for someone to drive the vehicle when the software screws up or else there will many more deaths on the road than in the recent air disaster.

  103. Alex says:

    A question for Patrick (and readers in general): Do you think it’s feasible that the cockpit door locking mechanism could be modified or replaced to allow the entry of an individualized code — different from the entry code — that would temporarily disable the lockout feature; i.e., even if only one pilot remained in the cockpit, the other pilot could always get back in. Or do you think that because pilot suicide/homicide is such an infrequent event, airlines would deem this fix too expensive?

    • Andrew Sullivan says:

      On the idea of “personal override-of-lockout codes”: this is an engineering trade-off for defending against what you think is the greatest threat.

      If there is a way to override the full-lockout mechanism, then it _will_ be compromised. The current arrangement is essentially an unkeyed deadbolt arrangement. It cannot be compromised from the outside. A personal-code override means that there is a way to compromise that deadbolt from the outside.

      So, the question is simply, do we think that threats from outside the cockpit, or from inside, are greater? I have no idea what the answer is, but the answer is contained in how we answer that question and not in whether it can be done.

  104. JuliaZ says:

    Patrick, I hope this doesn’t increase workplace stress for pilots, though in the short term, I bet it will. It will increase the “2 crew at all times” rule, and other than the minor nuisance, most of you think it’s a good thing, right? I heard of a German pilot announcing that policy off-the-cuff to his passengers a few days ago, to put their minds at ease. Anyone, even the youngest senior pilot 😉 can be stricken by a heart attack without warning.

    I don’t speak for the scared masses because I’m not among them, but I don’t think flight crews have anything to be embarrassed about. That would be like my letter carrier having personal guilt over the last USPS employee that “went postal”. Ridiculous. The vast majority of flight crews are people I’m happy to respect; very well trained, passionate about their work, invested in my safety since it’s their safety too. Honestly, worrying about pilots repeating this incident is just a waste of time… we all had to scratch our heads to come up with four or five examples out of many millions of flights.

    I do hope the airlines might start to destigmatize mental illness so that employees who need help can get it, but given that as a society, we can hardly do that for teenagers in our high schools, I’m not holding my breath. Maybe pilots can bring, “See something, say something” onto the plane and talk about it quietly and privately if you see a colleague under unusual strain.

    Anyway, morbid fascination with the stuff on this young man’s computers will fade and I’m guessing this crash will fall out of the news relatively quickly since the cause seems obvious and a “fix” can be implemented fairly easily, and already has, by a bunch of carriers. Lufthansa’s reluctance is weird given their current legal liability but I bet they will come around, and the lawsuits might make the news too if this pilot did withdraw from training for a time because these issues were bothering him then.

    So… a pedantic question from a fellow pedant: should we never use the term “co-pilot” at all, since so many people mentally attach “junior” to it? Should we say “the pilots?” When differentiation is necessary, the “pilot and first officer?” Thanks

    • Helen says:

      Because of what happened in Germany in the 1930’s when Hitler had people and children with mental illnesses, physical problems, deafness, blindness, etc., institutionalized and then killed in his effort to create the perfect race, Germany after the war and ever since has been ultra concerned about keeping that sort of information completely and totally private. Way beyond our HIPPA laws.

      They may have to look at this situation once they know what the doctors’ knew and decide that an exception ought to be made if a patient in a critical job has symptoms of severe mental illness. They may decide that only in those rare instances should either the government or the employer be tipped off.

      The likelihood of this happening frequently isn’t great but possibly some changes will have to be made though certain forms of mental illness are very difficult to pick off with testing or even observation.

  105. Paul says:

    “steer the plane during the pilot’s breaks, or if he or she became ill”

    Okay– if the copilot doesn’t do that, then who does?

  106. Don Beyer says:

    Notice how Lufthansa is taking full respinsibity for the crash of their Germanwings subsidiary. Recall the Comair [Delta Connection] crash in Lexington KY. Comair was a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Air Lines. Delta successfully fought off any claims that Delta was financially liable to any of the passengers. Even though Delta sold everyone the tickets and profited from Comair’s operation.

  107. Don Beyer says:

    What is the protocol when one of the Pilots has to leave the cockpit on an American carrier? Can a pilot be left alone? Who can be in the cockpit if not. A flight attendant? A passenger who is a qualified pilot on any aircraft? or a commercial airline pilot?

  108. Anonymous says:

    It seems no one has speculated on one glaring item . . . what if the pilot had NOT gone to the bathroom?

    • Nicholas Robinson says:

      Sorry, I didn’t mean to be anonymous. I thought I would automatically be logged in to comment, as I come here and comment regularly.

    • Caroline Clarke says:

      My husband and I have been saying exactly the same thing – how could it be guaranteed that the pilot would leave to go to the toilet, especially on such a short flight, and particularly only half an hour into the flight…? It is possible that the media are being far too quick to judge this man – especially now the ‘depression’ speculation has proved to be something physical. I also agree with earlier comment – would you be breathing nice and regularly as you flew into a mountain?

      • David Kazmierski says:

        This is pointless speculation. Of course there was no guarantee that the captain would use the restroom. If the other pilot doesn’t leave, the plane doesn’t crash. Life isn’t a Hollywood movie. This guy was mentally ill, not Hans Gruber.

    • Peter says:

      Check Ami at 01:21 am. She had a similar thought.

    • Sam says:

      The actions by the co-pilot were probably a crime of opportunity. I don’t think it was pre-meditated. He might have tried this at the next available flight if it didn’t happen that day. I read elsewhere he had bought two new cars a week or so ago. Why would he do that if he was going to end his life the following week?

  109. David Kazmierski says:

    The freak-out machine, currently operating at full-throttle, is unfortunately a standard feature of our age now. Much like crashes in the larger sense, crashes caused by murder-suicide are, obviously, rare to the point of statistical irrelevance. I don’t, of course, mean that this incident was irrelevant or that the lives lost were—who would/could? There are risks associated with every aspect of human life. The risk of being victim to such an act as this requires too many zeroes for anyone to reasonably understand it. But such perspectives won’t feed the machine. All the handwringing about cabin doors and pilot mental health standards is, I guess, a part of the grief process, as we all feel we’re part of everything that happens now, and all feel like we have the solutions for everything. But this was a tragedy likely without a larger lesson. It’s terrible, but these things happen…will always happen.

  110. Carey says:

    I’m confused by one aspect of the description of events. The standard procedure for the captain to re-enter the flight deck appears to be to use the intercom first, and if that doesn’t work use the key-code, which sounds an alarm in the cockpit. However, the description of the voice recorder mentions the first officer breathing and pounding on the door; but no mention of intercom requests or door alarms, both of which WOULD have been recorded. If the captain didn’t (or couldn’t) use the intercom or key-code (or entered the wrong key-code), doesn’t that change the picture considerably? Suicide may still be the simplest solution, but there are still other questions to be answered.

  111. Bill says:

    What’s the point of even having commercial pilots these days?
    They are really more like astronauts with computers than a yoke.

    The whole industry is antiquated with a romanticism going back to the Wright Brothers.
    It’s time to rethink this ‘dream of flying’ altogether. The dream is over. It’s a new age.

    • Patrick says:

      Really. Tell me more about this. Have you ever actually sat in a cockpit and watched pilots work?

      • Bill says:

        Yes. I earned my pilot’s license at the age of 17 in 1975. I trained and flew a Piper Arrow that was maintained for a rental at the FBO where I fueled jets, airplanes and manned the FBO radio. I worked and learned along side the professional pilots and mechanics that they employed for a small commuter airline. The FAA was stationed 20 yards away from the hangar. I learned a lot.

        Of all the characters I met at the airport, I respected the mechanics the most. They were almost Zen like in their approach to their jobs because the maintenance schedules were relentless and absolutely essential to the welfare of the pilot and passengers. Pilots, on the other hand, were all over the map in terms of personality and temperament.

        In a strange way, you just proved that by popping off at me and questioning my experience.
        You are living proof that pilots are all too human. For that reason I request your public apology.

    • Steven says:

      Patrick disagrees, of course; he’s a professional pilot. But I think you’re right (I’m no Chuck Yaeger or Patrick Smith, but I am a private pilot). Yes, human pilots perform tasks on flight decks, but so do computers; so can robots. It’s time for machines to manage both automobiles and commercial aircraft and thereby save lives. Let’s leave 20th-c. romanticism in the rearview mirror.

      • Patrick says:

        It’s easy to asterisk my thoughts because I’m a pilot. But I’m not just disagreeing because I’m an advocate. I disagree because the people who normally advocate this stuff tend to have a very stilted understanding of how planes actually fly, and what pilots actually do. Their understanding comes from articles written by tech reporters and researchers.

        • Bill says:

          More Mission Control style: rethink the landing strip altogether. Have a team on board beyond stewards. Take the hero status out of the cockpit and use all hands on deck.

          Re-imagine commercial flight and let solo enthusiasts be like rock climbers without ropes. And if that means commercial flight is more expensive, encourage passengers to take busses, trains and ships.

          If a pilot can can control a drone from a desktop at the Naval Air Station Jacksonville at an 8000 mile target, surely a commercial jet can be rescued and commandeered from as great of a distance as well. It’s like the black box dilemma, the industry doesn’t have a back up plan like storing everything in real time on a server in addition to a black box.

          In the words of FLA Senator Bill Nelson who has flown aboard the space shuttle, said the days of stick-and-rudder piloting are coming to an end, and drones are a big part of the future of military aviation. It’s time to re-think, re-invent, and re-imagine commercial flight safety systems. Let’s get started!

          • Richard says:

            As I said elsewhere, computer systems are great on planes. Computers have several advantages over humans – they are incredibly fast, and incredibly accurate. They are also incredibly stupid. I’m a software engineer currently working in the aviation industry and while the processes mean I have a lot of faith in how well the software will work, we are NOWHERE near being ready to get rid of pilots. Can we write software to perform a complete flight? Of course we can. Can we be confident it will be handle to all new and bizarre situations, or even realise when it’s being fed incorrect information? Not all the time, no. QF72, for example, may well have smashed straight into the ground if it was left on autopilot. QF32 certainly would have – one of the computers determined that the correct landing speed was about 20 knots below stall speed. It was because the pilots knew what they were doing, and were paying attention, that they realised the figure was wrong. Also you can’t compare it to a car – when a computer driven car gets confused, it stops. What’s a plane meant to do?

          • Harkonnen says:

            Loving as I love Science Fiction I never get tired of reading SC books and watching SC series. I do keep noticing the word “Fiction” though.

            Pilot-less planes for transporting passengers will remain in the realm of Science Fiction for long time. We are likely to see first the disappearance of flight attendants and having our drinks being served by robots than the pilots being removed from the cabin.

            BTW, we also have the technology to perform heart surgery remotely over the Internet, but I’d like to see who volunteers.

          • Harkonnen says:

            Loving as I love Science Fiction I never get tired of reading SF books and watching SF series. I do keep noticing the word “Fiction” though.

            Pilot-less planes for transporting passengers will remain in the realm of Science Fiction for long time. We are likely to see first the disappearance of flight attendants and having our drinks being served by robots than the pilots being removed from the cabin.

            BTW, we also have the technology to perform heart surgery remotely over the Internet, but I’d like to see who volunteers.

  112. Lou says:

    And Pat, I am so grateful there are two pilots on the flight deck and not an apprentice. Your posts are great and informative.

  113. MS42 says:

    Christine Negroni wrote an article about “bid avoidance” that implies that pilots may choose not to fly with certain pilots because of a fear for safety. I can see many personal reasons not to want to be paired with a coworker, but not safety. Isn’t there a safety valve if you are worried about another pilot?

    • Patrick says:

      I have a few captains on my “no fly list,” as we call it, but I have never once avoided flying with a particular pilot out of safety concerns, and and I’ve never heard of anybody else doing it either. I’m startled that Christine would write such a thing, if in fact she did.

  114. Catherine says:

    “Please show decorum and respect both for the author and others. And most of all, for the now victims of this deplorable act.”
    “Our host and author provides us with rational, logical insight – and a rare safe forum in which to discuss all. Please return such.”
    As I was reading the other posts and came across yours, John, it was like a breath of fresh air. Sometimes we need to be reminded. Thanks.

  115. Alice Schmid says:

    Why would a pilot on a 2 hour flight need to go to bathroom? Was he trying to be generous to the copilot, to get solo flying experience?

    • Sweet Marie says:

      For crying out loud – sometimes you just really do need to go to the bathroom. Was he supposed to just hold it for two hours? Nature calls and sometimes you can’t wait to answer.

    • Patrick says:

      If he had to pee, he had to pee. It happens. Sometimes it’s very busy right before departure and you don’t have time, meanwhile you’ve had a couple of cups of coffee or whatever. In any case that’s not the point. Even if the captain hadn’t gone to the lavatory, the copilot still could have crashed the plane, albeit not as easily, or could have waited and chosen a longer flight.

      And certainly the copilot did not need “solo flying experience.” Copilots fly the plane just as much as captains do.

  116. John Clements says:

    Apart from the Co-Pilot’s actions, the ultimate responsibility should be placed at the door of the security agencies who presumably, correct me if I’m wrong, mandated the installation of a cockpit door locking system able to be jammed by the flight crew.

    I realise this is safe if some fruit loop goes amok, but since it appears the Pilot was locked out by his colleague, I’m hopeful that this will be prevented in future, else some other method of gaining cockpit access in an emergency can be instituted.

    Or, simpler perhaps was what happened on most Delta flights I took last year – pilot leaves cockpit, flight attendant enters and closes door. Knock knock or intercom request to re-enter and they exchange places.

    Quick and easy.

    I realise security agencies, airlines and manufacturers are doing their best, at least death was instantaneous, which is no real comfort, but the best we can have under the circumstances.

    Are you planning to write another book, I loved Cockpit Confidential.

    • Seth says:

      When you do the cold calculations of the risks involved, it would still seem to be wiser to protect the cockpit in this manner (or something similar). If you accept that there will be some some bad actors on a plane, it’s much more likely that they will be seated in the passenger cabin than in the cockpit. For one thing there are simply many more passengers than crew. For another, the barrier to entry for a passenger is much lower (basically the cost of a ticket) while crew needs to go through a long education and training process in addition to initial and regular screening.

  117. Maarten says:

    I was wondering if the cockpit doors open towards the passengers cabine. If so, I can imagine that it is very hard to impossible to open the door if the source of a sudden pressure loss is originating in the cockpit. That would be a design flaw.

    • Richard says:

      As has been mentioned in the comments numerous times, that is not possible. The cockpit door/wall is not a pressurised bulkhead. The pressure will always be the same in the cockpit and main cabin.

  118. Fionna says:

    What if—— the Pilot did it, drugged the copilot. Left him in there with the autopilot adjusted. goes out – comes back — Now Pilot sounds like victim on black box – banging to get back in of a door he locked himself out of. his family gets all the insurance $ – and nobody ever knows he did it. perfect crime.

    • Julie says:

      Hi Fionna,

      That occurred to me as well. I hope the investigation leaves ‘no stone unturned’ and looks into the background & current circumstances of the lead-pilot as well.

      Thanks for your posting. Julie (in California)

      • Bill says:

        What if the man was diagnosed for depression, got a doctor’s note, his girlfriend broke up, couldn’t handle the the stress, hid his illness, climbed on board, and will forever be remembered by name.

        Because that is what is emerging this AM. Unless of course, pilots are not human, which is why I am calling for a new way of thinking about commercial flight altogether from take off to landing.

      • Fionna says:

        Thanks Julie – we are in same state 🙂

        yes – I wish they would profile the captain a bit – just so we could get sense . a torn up doctors note — it really proves nothing yet, I mean that might happen all the time, Ive been given doctors notes and didn’t use them before myself. nobody got hurt/

        the pilot really could have set up copilot. it’s diabolical. but no more so than what it appears the copilot did on purpose.


        • Amy says:

          I could be wrong but I’m guessing the data is telling investigators that the flight was reprogrammed AFTER the pilot left, leaving only the copilot inside the cockpit to reprogram it to 100 ft.

    • toughluck says:

      It would have been hard to fake getting access to the cockpit. As I understand it, the door can only be locked from the inside after they have already been closed.
      The lock only lasts five minutes, after which it can be circumvented from the outside if the person inside is incapacitated.
      The first officer would have had to lock the door again after five minutes and the initial attempt to gain access.

      Your theory is of course viable, but we’ll have to leave it to the investigators.
      Assuming they have found both the FDR and the CVR, they can check if the autopilot input was done before or after the captain leaving the cockpit. Furthermore, they can check if the pilot outside has tried to get access again after five minutes have passed or continued banging on the door. There’s a possibility that passengers would have volunteered to help break down the door, which the captain might not have anticipated.
      Depending on the drug used, the first officer might have woken up, or could have fallen on the steering column, leading to unexpected outcomes.
      Finally, there’s the matter of first officer’s responses to landing briefing having been described as curt.
      Occam’s razor, the captain doing this act is less likely than the first officer.

      • Fionna says:

        could pilot simply use wrong code? only give impression somebody keeps re-locking it?

        here’s my though t- if every time somebody enters correct code on outside – the person inside must re-lock it. — why not just try the code over and over – one of the times you are gonna get a split second advantage.

        maybe i’m barking up wrong tree — but seems to me — you’d keep trying code over and over. not banging.

      • Fionna says:

        I agree it’s less likely. I just think — the use of auto pilot – the steady breathing inside cockpit. and the fact that audio was of knocking and banging – but no audio of — “hey, let me use the code”, etc.

        …those things make me think the story may be more complex. or specifically maybe it was the pilot rather than co-pilot.

        but — I also wonder if the copilot had just been prescribed some kind of psychiatric meds. cause that could be an explanation too – if he had essentially drugged himself – when given privacy for a minute. and perhaps not knowing how it would effect him. or doing it intentionally. but I think he had to have been drugged to breath steady and to use autopilot – either way. just what I think / never flown a plane myself.

  119. Dan Ullman says:

    May I inject a bit of reason here? A prosecutor, who was undoubtedly freak out by the event, went public. Two days after the crash isn’t an investigation. For all I know, the first officer may have been a loony. However. that isn’t more then a media spoon at the moment.

    • Alex P says:

      That also kind of bugged me at first, until I saw. Patrick treating the theory seriously. That’s when I knew it has to be true.

  120. Jaser says:

    I have two theories.

    1. as the plane reached higher altitudes, both pilots began to feel sick because of a faulty seal in the windscreen cockpit. For this reason, the pilot left the cockpit because he began to feel sick. When he left the plane reach higher altitudes, the copilot felt even more dizzy, started a descent to go to bring the plane to an altitude with more oxygen levels, during this time it was too late and the copilot passed out, and could not initiate to open the door when the pilot entered the code and tried to reenter the cockpit. With the co-pilot passed out, only steady breathing was heard.

    2. Same scenario however the copilot passed out on the descent buttons during ascent. Causing the plane to begin it’s descent.

    People say murder suicide is the simplest and most believable conclusion, however I can’t wrap my head around how it was a smooth descent, and the copilots calm breathing was recorded. You would think someone trying to commit suicide would cut the engines or steer it into the mountains, rather than calmly descend the plane.

    I just think its terrible how the media is labeling this guy as a murderer and even worse for the families of the victims. I have a limited background on airplanes, so can anyone see any holes in my theories?

    • Richard says:

      The cockpit is not pressurised separately. If the air was too thin in the cockpit it would also be too thin in the main cabin. It’s a bulkhead, not a pressurised bulkhead.

    • toughluck says:

      One hole: he would have to be able to lock the door after the captain left the cockpit. This would have to be a very specific action.
      Second, he needed to confirm the lock on the door when the captain put in the entry code, or the door would have opened.
      Third, if he’s feeling sick, he wouldn’t lock the door in the first place.

    • Patrick says:

      The crew would have been alerted to a loss in pressurization. At a certain point, well before they’d have felt anything physically, alarms would have been blaring.

    • JoseR says:

      I agree with you. Why wouldn’t a pilot on a suicide mission just push the nose down? Something doesn’t seem right with the story that’s been reported.

      • Sweet Marie says:

        Because it is HARD to take a modern airplane straight down – the plane itself will be fighting to regain a more normal and safe flying position and it is hard work.

        This is my theory. I think, based on the fact that for whatever medical reason, this guy knew that because of his medical condition his flying days were soon going to be over as evidenced by the medical notes that deemed him unfit to fly on those days. Maybe he was diagnosed with epilepsy or some other condition that does not allow you to operate machinery of any kind safely and that triggered a deep depression. It has been well document by everyone who seems to know this guy that he LOVED to fly. As horrible as it seems, maybe he just wanted to die doing the thing he loved the most and this could have been his last chance. Some self medication and push the descent button and it was done. It explains the steady breathing – I fly with someone who takes lorazapam to fly and it is very fact acting and she is more or less docile before they even get the announcement done – breathing quite steadily and calmly beside me. A larger dose would certainly work even quicker and would remove the ability or desire to abort. He probably never even gave a thought to the passengers or the crew. Depression is a terrible thing that makes people do terrible things.

    • I would say #1 is a very good theory but the truth is the guy was depressed. He might be a murder from a legal perspective and all but he was sick. By being depressed, his judgment capacity gets totally biased. That usually opens the door for 2 things: 1)He would totally think he was doing those people a favor — taking their misery — or — 2) Punish everybody for his own misery. That’s what it takes to someone to dive a plane at 700km / 420 mph into some solid obstacle. May God comfort the families and our Lord guide the victims to rest.

  121. Bill says:

    I bet the guy didn’t make but 30-40K for his 28 years of age and 600 or so hours of flying.

    The airline seems to be a little bit too quick to announce this as a suicide, maybe, to shield it’s self from being sued into bankruptcy. That’s going to happen anyway regardless of the true cause that will probably never be known.

    God Only Knows

  122. WX Wall says:

    One question I’m hoping you can answer. According to the NYT article about the crash, there is an elaborate set of codes that can be entered on the keypad outside the pilot door in order to unlock it, even if the person inside has locked the door. None of us have actually heard the flight recording of course, but it seems that no one is reporting that there was evidence the pilot attempted to use these codes to enter the cockpit instead of just knocking and trying to break the door down.

    Of course, the copilot could have physically barred the door, but is there anything in the cockpit that could be used that way? It’s not like the chairs or the any of the instruments are moveable and could be jammed up against a door to form any sort of significant barrier.

    • jms says:

      Read more of the information being reported on various news sites — the person inside the cockpit can disable the use of these codes, making it impossible for anyone outside to open the door.

      I’m imagining they designed it this way to guard against the scenario where a terrorist tortured the code out of a crew member in the main cabin.

  123. cmurf says:

    Some “demands” for change I’ve heard in the media:

    Cameras in the cockpit – I don’t think this helps solve any problem, except the demand for immediate answers. Maybe if it were a 5 minute loop it might answer some questions (?) while also being too short to be perceived as an intrusion in the cockpit.

    Third pilot – I think this is a non-starter cost and scheduling wise. This person is self-evidently “on-duty” I don’t see how this gets treated otherwise.

    Flight attendant in the cockpit when a pilot leaves – this seems easy, cheap, practical, and effective. Even if it’s may not be 100% effective seeing as there have been successful mass murder suicides even with a sane pilot in the cockpit fighting the deranged one. However, it significantly improves the odds and if nothing else it’s a better way to regain access than code alone.

    More automation – I haven’t heard any detail on what this looks like, but from a programatic point of view if the planes systems are otherwise functioning properly, it might be reasonable for the computer to inhibit decent below minimum safe altitude, i.e. level off, which is still compatible with deviating to another airport and landing.

    Mental health – I think most cultures, including in the U.S. underestimate mental health issues and tend not to take it very seriously. The idea this is self-monitored, by and large, for people in a position of direct responsibility for hundreds of lives per day I think is fairly close to b.s. It’s understandable, but I think we need to stop being so dismissive of mental health in general, and by extension pilots (as well as other professionals such as police). A regular M.D. is marginally more well equipped to evaluate mental health as a house plant, and marginally less than the next door neighbor.

  124. John Skrabutenas says:

    Glad to see that you were not the “Patrick S” that was initially identified as the germanwings captain!

  125. Amy says:

    So, I have absolutely no experience in this area. Full disclosure. But what I want o know is, based on the latest daTa regarding how these events unfolded, how could the co-pilot have known the captain would step out for a bathroom break? Was he just waiting for an occasion to take a plane down? It seems to me that an act of this insane magnitude would require some forethought on the part of its agent; it wouldn’t be an impetuous decision. Maybe I’m wrong, but someone who physiologically (according to the recording anyway) appears both awake and breathing birmally has proceeded with deliberation, and that to me entails forethought. How could the co-pilot have possibly known the captain would step out for a bathroom break?

    • Amy asked: ” how could the co-pilot have known the captain would step out for a bathroom break? ”

      They say there are no stupid questions, but this one makes me doubt it.

      He obviously had decided before he got on the plane that he was going to kill everybody. He waited until the pilot had to pee, then locked him out.

      How much clearer does it have to be?

      As for motivation, he had to take several months off for depression. That means SERIOUS depression, because I and many other (formerly) depressed people could still work at our jobs. Sure, we cried at our desks and hoped nobody would see, but we would only leave our jobs for a horrible incapacitation by uncontrollable, undirected grief.

      It seems very likely that this is what happened to the first officer, and that he was hospitalized for it—possibly for attempting suicide.

      He was definitely taking medicine for depression since we know he left work for months because of it. If he was not on a big enough dose, or not on the right one, or if he was cherry and decided he didn’t need to take it anymore (as even I have stupidly done), then in two weeks he would fall into an indescribable pit of horror that is easy to hide from other people who aren’t looking for it. The victim goes from “I don’t need the medicine” to “the medicine never did help, because the grief is woven into the fabric of the universe.”

      Or some similar bulls hit.

      The explanation is simple and obvious. There was no decompression, or his reaction would have been different. It also would have affected the captain and the passengers, but the captain was definitely not nearly unconscious. Plus, he made deliberate selection of the controls that drove the plane into a mountain.

      So while the German NTSB must consider every possibility (and rightly so), it is merely pro forma. The voice recorder tells us in no uncertain terms that he did this deliberately.

      Pilots who have been hospitalized for depression or even taking meds for it should have to talk to a shrink every week and their emotions probed.

      You can fool your coworkers (like this guy did), but when asked the right questions by a professional who’s looking for it, *nobody* can hide the fact that they are drowning in unimaginable sorrow.

      –faye kane ♀ girl brain,
      sexiest astrophysicist you’ll ever see naked
      Google me. Then let your friends Google me

      • Peter says:

        I thought your comment was a bit harsh. A simple, and valid, question was asked regarding a relatively short duration flight. I’d far rather read a thoughtful query than an explanation that is “simple and obvious” from an armchair quarterback a couple days into an event. The general public is in the process of throwing a persons reputation on the trash heap of history. A legacy that his family will have to endure. Perhaps that will be the final story, but let the experts decide, not a bunch of rank amateurs and an over zealous French prosecutor.

      • JoseR says:

        You, Faye, define the “b” word, and you seem pretty “stupid” yourself which is much worse than asking a so-called stupid question. You’re quick to jump on someone that may have expressed some skepticism, but how do you know that it was as simple as the story being reported? You don’t think for yourself and just believe everything someone says? There are a lot of things that don’t make sense. Why not put the plane in a nose-down dive if you’re going to kill everyone? They say they know the first officer wasn’t dead or suffering from something like a heart attack because they hear him breathing normally, but that means nothing. I would think that someone that was going to commit suicide would be breathing erratically, not normally. And so far I haven’t heard anything about the first officer saying anything. Seems like someone in that frame of mind would say something. I’m not saying that the story that’s out there isn’t true, but there are some things that don’t make complete sense, and skepticism should be welcome. Now please, be nice and maybe try learn not to believe everything that everyone says. It will be good for your girl brain. And btw no one wants to see you nude you’re nothing special.

  126. Anonymous says:

    So, I have absolutely no experience in this area. Full disclosure. But what I want o know is, based on the latest daTa regarding how these events unfolded, how could the co-pilot have known the captain would step out for a bathroom break? Was he just waiting for an occasion to take a plane down? It seems to me that an act of this insane magnitude would require some forethought on the part of its agent; it wouldn’t be an impetuous decision. Maybe I’m wrong, but someone who physiologically (according to the recording anyway) appears both awake and breathing birmally has proceeded with deliberation, and that to me entails forethought. How could the co-pilot have possibly known the captain would step out for a bathroom break?

  127. Christopher Whitworth says:

    Not to stigmatise pilots in any way, the days when a plane fell out of the sky for a design defect or catastrophic failure have long gone. Unfortunately the main cause is now human error or deliberate act. I am absolutely certain that the pilot of the doomed Germanwings would have thanked the civil aviation authorities if they had enacted enforced regulation to prevent sole cockpit occupancy back in the late 1990’s when the evidence was clear that this sort of incident was foreseeable. The parents of the 16 school children that perished may be asking the question as to why in 2015 airlines persist in putting people’s lives at risk when the U.S. authorities have acted proactively in removing this risk.

    Suicide is as old as the human race. Anyone who works in mental health would not be surprised that a person engaged in a suicide attempt also has the capacity to kill others either maliciously or unintentionally. None of this is new.

  128. flymike says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself – and I’ve been an airline pilot since 1981.

  129. Don K says:

    If it can be demonstrated that the co-pilot used the airplane as the instrument of his suicide, that represents a rupture of the social contract between pilots and passengers. When taking off or landing in challenging conditions, I comfort myself with the idea that the pilots are highly-trained professionals who have seen worse than this in the simulator, really want to make it back home as much as I do, and won’t do anything stupid on purpose. I’m going to treat this one as a one-off, and continue with that idea in my head.

  130. Vinny Noggin says:

    These pilots must submit to rigorous monthly psychological testing as well as quarterly brain scans to search for brain tumors. This is an interim solution until we can implant chips in them and, ultimately, migrate to pilotless airliners.

  131. Fionna says:

    all they hear from inside cockpit is steady breathing. zero speaking. while pilot knocks softly and then hard to be let in.

    if pilot has door code – why bother knocking in first place? why not just let himself in? that part doesn’t make sense,

    to assume that copilot is acting intentionally – because he is silent and only breathing steadily – doesn’t make sense to me. anybody about to crash into alps intentionally or not would breath more rapidly. if they knew what they were doing.

    seems more likely they would breath steadily if they were passed out.

    • Tod Davis says:

      Patrick may be able to clarify this but i believe that although there are door security codes, there is also a switch inside the cockpit which disables the lock for security reasons

  132. Martin says:

    Oh Patrick, you’re going to love this, from the BBC:

    He initially worked as a flight attendant, according to German news website Spiegel, before starting his role as co-pilot.

    His duties would have included monitoring instruments, communicating with air traffic controllers and sharing control of the aircraft with the captain. He would have also been expected to steer the plane during the pilot’s breaks, or if he or she became ill.

  133. Fionna says:

    another Aviation mystery – brought me back here for expert opinion.

    Seems right now “they” are sure it was co-pilot. but nobody who knew him can guess why he would do it.

    I’m wondering — is it possible copilot was just passed out and copilot was getting door code wrong?

  134. Jeff Latten says:

    OK, the airwaves are replete with speculation about this event, but I have a rather elementary question: the FO who allegedly was responsible here was said to have 630 hours experience.

    I don’t believe it was announced if that was his time in type or his overall time, but that seems to me like a rather paltry amount of flight time to be FO on an Airbus. I’d think this guy would still be in twin engine Cessna 402’s for Cape Air with only that limited experience…in fact, I’d bet CA flight crews have more time than that. Of course, if it was his intention to do this, then all the hours in the world would not have prevented it.

    Your take?

    • susan says:

      Jeff-most of the Cape Air pilots I’ve met have logged many more hours than that. A few of them are instructors, I have logged a few hours with them. Nothing like flying out to the Cape on nice VFR day!

      However, this fellow was trained within the Lufthansa system, so just like a surgeon who trains at Mass General, he could get hired by the institution right out of training. In the US system, the pipeline is more likely to take a new line pilot into a regional carrier until somebody retires upstream.

      surely there is more to the story then we know so far. 27 years old is young for this kind of responsibility, even at second in command. heartbreaking.

      • Jeff Latten says:

        My remark was in no way intended to disparage Cape Air personnel. Quite the opposite. We’ve flown CA many times and I am impressed with the smoothness and watchfulness of their pilots.

        What I want to know is how this guy got right seat on an Airbus at age 28 with just 630 hours time, however he accumulated it? Does that smell right to any of you who have knowledge of hiring practices at this level of carrier? And I guess we can say the self-reporting system of notifying your employer if you’ve been grounded just doesn’t seem to work right, yeah?

  135. sergiy says:

    Is it the question of mental heath evaluation, or many pilots’ below-subsistence salaries? Every time I board a plane, I’m asking myself whether the pilot slept enough, and whether they have enough compensation to be happy with their lives. Or at the very least not be miserable. I’d rather we all paid higher ticket prices, for the extra money to go to maintenance and crews first.

    • richard says:

      To Sergiy….The crew of Air France 447 satisfied all your requirements but still managed to crash the aircraft. Total disorganization appears to be the explanation.
      For passengers, this story is absolutely terrifying!

  136. Jon says:

    Hi Patrick, as I understand it, blaming one of the pilots is based only on the cockpit voice recorder – they haven’t yet found the flight data recorder. The media are saying he intentionally started the descent when the other pilot left the cockpit. Would there be an audible indication picked up when the pilot did this? Or would that theory be based only on the decent starting at the time that one of the pilots left the cockpit?

  137. Jean H. Klele says:

    Thank you for what you did say. I look to for an easy to understand explanation and rational opinion for every “dramatic” aviation event that consumes the media, and this has been no exception. I have been a bit more keenly interested in the Germanwings crash because of my long-standing employment with a German machinery manufacturer, my German colleagues, and my sense of security in flying often on Lufthansa and knowing the Germans’ meticulous approach to machinery maintenance. Although I still maintain a certain level of anxiety when flying, particularly overseas (your book helped me dramatically), my mental checklist is more along the lines of, “Are the pilots sober?” “Are the pilots experienced enough to be flying the plane I am on?” “Will the pilots keep the passengers informed of things like approaching weather situations” and not, “Is one or both of these pilots suicidal?” With the news of the co-pilot’s actions, I feel for all of the great pilots who are out there – those that are professional, take pride in what they do, and put passengers’ comfort and security at the top of their priorities. This coward’s actions to take the lives of 149 other totally innocent people in order to take is own, is beyond belief. Totally incomprehensible and horribly offensive from a moral perspective. I am sure the pride of many pilots has been bit tarnished with the news today that “one of their own” could commit this murderous act. For me, I will reference your last line by stating that I know that the men and women in control of my airplanes are exactly the highly skilled professionals that I expect them to be. Thank you for all that you and your colleagues do. Keep flying and writing….

  138. Tod Davis says:

    Is it true that at some airlines there is a rule that if one of the crew has to leave the cockpit, a flight attendant has to stand in the cockpit so there are always 2 people in there?
    I swear I’ve seen that at least on a Virgin Australia flight.
    Thanks for the reporting, i always come to this site as soon as i hear of an aviation incident.

  139. John says:

    Two math problems in one day, I may have to lie down a spell!

    Thanks for the timely update Patrick. This is a gut-punch for all entrusted with this challenging job day in and day out in oft, a thankless atmosphere.

    I’m not a professional pilot. I’m a flight nerd, an airport enthusiast, fan of passenger aircraft – not on the level of being nosy, oppressive or say, posting comments on airline pilot forums – but of the 90% of enthusiasts and travelers that revere, respect and enjoy learning of such work. I’ve enjoyed this interest consistently in my life for 40 years while others have come and gone and am grateful to Patrick and others for their participation.

    Reevaluating the screening of pilots and mental health issues will be even more scrutinized but ultimately you have to trust your crews. I feel that draconian measures removing trust could alienate the pros, not enhance security and the quality or numbers of individuals wanting to become line pilots could even deteriorate. The US already mandates a two-person rule and that will surely happen worldwide starting like ‘yesterday.’

    I just can’t and won’t watch CNN any longer for their smarmy over-the-top speculation, hypotheticals and downright morbidity – but I guarantee that ground-to-aircraft remote control override, drones tech and eliminating the pilot are being bantered about stupidly and freely today by the three stooges, Schiavo, Abend and Quest. Information they are surely handing out is already common knowledge and easily found if you look carefully, but a little judgement and discretion should be used when reporting on how door and cockpit security may or may not work.

    Screening will be reevaluated and policies will be adjusted. How absolutely horrible though. We should not need to be warty of the pros flying our aircraft and I know it devastates them to have this occur. My condolences to all affected and to all the great, proud, competent pilots being scrutinized as a whole.

  140. Nonoti says:

    I agree on the point of the media making air crashes much more public, and our “connected” world making us more aware of even the minor hiccup in an aircraft that causes everyone to panic. Its the same almost all bad things happening.

    However I have been wondering for a while about the possibility of putting much more automation and control of the plane in to the hands of a computer (i use the term broadly).

    For example, in 2015 is it so difficult to build a machine that can “watch” all sensor activity and as the pilot dives towards a mountain, properly conclude that 1. There’s nothing wrong with the plane. 2. There’s no landing strip there so 3. This is probably a malicious event.

    And then assume control of the aircraft, lockout the cockpit controls and go into a mode where “IT” flies the plane to its destination until a successful landing is made and ignores all pilot input?

    Sounds far-fetched but we have had auto-pilot since computers were simple things, we now live with advanced, highly efficient technology thats light years closer to artificial intelligence than 20 years ago.

    I’m not saying replace the pilots. I’m saying make the final decision – the one that counts – the Computer’s choice. Its not affected by emotions, terrorist threats and panic. It can decide a course of action taking into account every sensor on the aircraft in nano-seconds. If it was in the aircraft in this scenario it would have landed with nothing more than one confused pilot and a co-pilot pending arrest.

    • Marignac says:

      You say: “For pilots, that a colleague may have intentionally crashed his plane and killed everybody on board, is not only horrific but embarrassing, and potentially stigmatizing to the entire profession.”

      Why should that be? There have tons of lines been written about this crash. Even the AF447 coverage seemed not to have produces as many lines as this incident. I’ve been following on, and occasionally (I’m German and work for a French company).

      The overall impression from all coverage, that I’ve been reading, is man’s will to absolutely account for what cannot be explained, especially at a moment where all information simply cannot be at hand as the dust has merely settled.

      The incident is so singular in any respect, that all we can say is, that chance is a fact of life. Why is that so difficult a notion? If all facts of life were accountable – how could then have taken place events that we have agreed to call mutations? Sometimes something simply happens but should not have happened. Why do we need to find always a reason? And hence: why should the inexplicable embarrass und stigmatize thousands (!) of dutifully educated and acting pilots, when there is this one exception to the rules, of which we know nothing about?

    • Anonymous says:

      Computers are extremely fast, extremely accurate, and extremely stupid. They have “reflexes” much faster than a human, and the calculations used to measure and predict are usually spot on. So there are things they are great for.

      For example, many pilots would fail to land a plane that had no hydraulics (and as such, the only control is via differential engine thrust) – but a computer can manage it. It can accurately predict and counter the phugoid cycle, allowing for smooth and level flight.

      The problem is when computers are provided with scenarios that have not been considered, and/or when the sensors do not reflect reality. QF72 may well have plummeted straight into the ground had the pilots not taken over (as it was, the computers caused serious injuries by believing the incorrect inputs). That has been corrected. But I doubt we will ever be able to write software good enough to successfully land flights such as QF32, US Airways Flight 1549 or Air Canada Flight 143.

  141. Ferro says:

    Some may say it´s even testament to the aviation safety. Airline operation have became so safe, that it takes rather freak cause to crash plane. Gone are the days of “good old CFIT”, now you need something highly unlikely like a pilot who wants to commit suicide.

    • Richard says:

      I always find it interesting that even if a plane crash is caused by pilot error, they still investigate ways to not allow the same situation to happen again. Such as moving a control around to prevent it being accidentally used, or adding new alarms, or – as in this case – ensuring there are always two people in the cockpit.

      But we don’t do the same with cars. Even though basically all crashes are “pilot” error, and MANY more people die in car accidents (over 1,000,000 a year), it’s just accepted as part of driving.

      • JuliaZ says:

        Currently at home recovering from ACDF surgery made necessary by a low-speed car crash injuring my neck on Halloween last year, I have to say that I am ready for self-driving cars. My family has already done most of what we can to lower our risks, moving closer to school and work so that our total four-person/two-driver household driving is under 1000 miles a month, and keeping my 6-year old son in a five-point harness carseat. All three of us in the car still got hurt! Put Google auto-driving software and the required sensors on my Nissan LEAF and I will happily look out the window, much as I enjoy flight on an airplane. 🙂

  142. Rick says:

    Is there not a flight engineer in the cockpit? Pictures I’ve seen show an engineer,s station in the cockpit.

    • Jeff Latten says:

      Patrick would know for sure, but I think they did away with Flight Engineer awhile ago on most commercial routes. Now it’s mostly Captain, First Officer, cabin crew and I think that’s it. Don’t know if any cabin crew have any flying skills…would doubt it but not sure at all.

  143. Seth says:

    Question: Is it normal for the sounds of someone breathing to be recorded on a cockpit voice recorder? When you hear these recordings they are usually muffled and difficult to hear. I imagine the mic is in some out of the way location and the ambient noise in an airplane can be loud. So how does the mic pick up the sound of someone breathing?

  144. Paul says:

    I’m not sure why you consider SilkAir unsolved, and the answer for MH370 is pretty clear.

    A few suicidal pilots should not tarnish all pilots, but we need to change the Sep.11 rules. We need to make sure that no one is ever left alone in the cockpit again, and we need to remove the ability to lock-out the cockpit.

    • Seth says:

      I don’t know. I’d rather take my chances with ill-intentioned crew than with ill-intentioned passengers. There are simply more passengers and one who wishes to do harm needs a little planning and a plane ticket. A crew member would need to train for years to get access to the cockpit of an airliner.
      There will no doubt be calls for changes to how and when the cockpit door locks. There will also likely be calls for more automated safety features that prevent a plane from flying into a mountain range. Still, as with all forms of travel, risks will remain.

      • Paul says:

        “I’d rather take my chances with ill-intentioned crew than with ill-intentioned passengers.”

        I’d urge you to reconsider. With current doors, there is nothing you can do to prevent an ill intentioned crew member from killing everyone.

        But passengers are unarmed, would have a very difficult time getting into the cockpit even with my proposals, and these days any crazy passenger would be pounded to a pulp by the others before he could do anything.

  145. John Moon says:

    Add this as Possibility.Crew Oxygen and Passenger oxygen are separate The Captain feel a bit odd gets up leaves the Co pilot in control without realizing that Hypoxia has already been occurring and the Co Pilot is becoming disoriented. He Gets into the Passenger cabin or restroom and feels refreshed and suspects what is going on.Meanwhile the co pilot begins a descent to try to get oxygen reacting to the situation ( although disoriented he would seek to descend.)However he is fully disoriented (and 6-8 minutes is along time without full oxygen)and cannot respond mistakenly Throwing the wrong switch is not unheard of consider the asia flight when the pilot cut off the wrong engine in a crisis, instead of restarting the engine that went out.
    The Pilot tries to raise him tried to get in the door. The Co Pilot pass out runs out of Altitude and never regain consciousness everyone does their job and its an unfortunate accident?One complicate by the cockpit door The question is why if there is no response from the cockpit? NO note, Nothing to suggest otherwise normal flight and conversation that local officials in Marseilles The conclusion MUST be suicide?
    That is one of many conclusions you could reach, but in the absence of a word at all from the co pilot why look there first?

    • Richard says:

      The cockpit is not pressurised separately to the rest of the cabin. Even if it normally was – what do you think would happen when the captain left the cockpit. The pressure would instantly equalise.

  146. John says:

    Thank God I brushed up on my remedial math so I could post!

    Please show decorum and respect both for the author and others. And most of all, for the now victims of this deplorable act. We all understandably want to find answers, alternatives – anything – to deny this was what it is shaping to be.

    There is no possible way a 3rd party got in without audio of it. There is no way this was in preparation for a descent into an airport before incapacitation (c’mon, 9000′ over the Alps?!) There is no passing out and the accidental leaning-on of stuff and flying in this fashion (if you are a regular ATP reader or read the great blogs of Airbus pilots, you well know this.) And there is no way other than the deliberate turn of one, possibly two knobs (or ‘press of a button’) did this happen. FiFi will complain about it, but do the ugly, ugly rest.

    So much technology, science, safety …and passion invested and overbuilt into that aircraft to prevent mistakes and mishandling and that this happens is purely sickening and an affront to the aircraft and all who design, build and fly it. Well, all of humanity for that matter.

    Our host and author provides us with rational, logical insight – and a rare safe forum in which to discuss all. Please return such. This has become a particularly heinous and terrifying act. Pilots and professionals all over the world are particularly devastated at this unthinkable event. Most readers here are respectful but still, thankfully no images are permitted, sparing us that idiotic “it was aliens gif” the last 48 hours. Yeesh.

    [Optional homework: Turn CNN off. Go seek out Captain Dave and his Flightlevel390 blog. Its now inactive, but certain bits and hits of it are re-hosted by some kind soul via Experience the piloting of an Airbus in an approachable, Joe-Average manner through a smart, witty and passionate line Airbus pilot. Its a fitting tribute.]

  147. Gene says:

    Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 scenario?

  148. Shocked says:

    What an excellent and prescient article. I find the comments that airlines should design planes to include toilets in cockpits as the most sensible solution to a problem which is never going to go away when multiple pilots are required in the cockpit. It also avoids any safety issues when door is opened to allow one pilot to exit and a Flight Attendant to join. However, airlines are bottom line conscious beasts and no doubt their actuaries will kibosh this idea.

  149. Peter says:

    Given what I’ve heard, this may be another example of the benefit of using telemetry to monitor aircraft performance and pilot input.

    Also, I’m not sure if I’ve read that it was the captain who left the flight deck. Is it confirmed that the captain left the flight deck and not the first officer? Is this an confirmed or speculation. I figure it’s bad enough for the family of those involved without having to endure a son’s character assassination.

  150. John Moon says:

    Why Are they so certain it was suicide when there are numerous mechanical problems and accidents which could produce the same result. Silence from the cockpit ( complete and utter silence other than breathing) would suggest something else would it not. Unable to respond or unconscious.

    • Jason says:

      Because, any explanation has to explain (a) the plane beginning to descend at a rate of 4,000 feet per minute, just after reaching altitude, without requesting permission to change flight level, and without any audible communication between the pilots about changing flight level and (b) the pilot being unable to reenter the cockpit even though his reentry, if he put in the appropriate code, could only be denied by a manual override from inside the cockpit.

      The simplest explanation anyone can think of is that the copilot intentionally set the plane to descend, and then kept the pilot from entering. That one sentence explains everything from the previous paragraph that needs to be explained. And, if true, that means the pilot was suicidal (and murderous).

      I could come up with an explanation that explains everything that needs to be explained, but it would take way too long to type out those scenarios, and they involve coincidences that are, frankly, unbelievable. That doesn’t mean those scenarios are definitely wrong…it just means they are almost certainly wrong.

  151. Mabel says:

    Thank you for being the voice of reason here. We really don’t know at this point what happened exactly, and there could have been a ton of things that caused this.

    I would like to say that everyone calling Lubitz a terrorist needs to back off that right now. If this was indeed a suicide, then terrorism is a very damaging association to make with mental illness.

  152. David M. says:

    Hey Patrick.

    Somebody at MSNBC may be paying attention – Dr. Maddow last night on the Rachel Maddow Show referred to both persons in the cockpit as “Pilots” and did not use the phrase “Co-Pilot” once during the broadcast.

  153. CL says:

    Patrick, thank you very much for posting this, along with your comments and this morning’s update. Like many people, I could not comprehend the latest news (and I still have difficulty processing it). The very first person that I thought to turn to for advice/analysis was to you. When it comes to air travel, I trust your judgment implicitly. (I enjoyed your columns, and have purchased both of your books, which I refer to on a regular basis.)

    For what it is worth, Norwegian Air has just announced a policy whereby nobody can ever be left alone in the cockpit:

  154. Miskidomleka says:

    One more thing:

    Patrick, I read theat US and Canada have a rule that whenever a pilot leaves a cockpit, a flight attendant must enter the cockpit. In other words, there are always at least two people in the cockpit.

    Is this true? Do you think that the Germanwings crash could have been prevented if the rule was followed by this airline?

  155. Will Thomas says:

    Unlike on, say, a ship, I can see why issuing a mayday would be low priority on an airplane. In most cases the people on the ground can’t help. Not like they can send a tugboat for you or that passengers can be offloaded to a nearby plane.

  156. Miskidomleka says:

    “EgyptAir, SilkAir, and possibly — or possibly not — MH370”

    Also, LAM Mozambique 470

  157. Catherine says:

    Let’s call in what it is. Possible pilot murder-suicide.

  158. John says:

    Very sad story about Germanwings. I’m hoping that in future updates you could address a few things. Why do you think the investigators have ruled out the possibility that the “co-pilot” lost consciousness but was still breathing? And they talked of him “pressing the button” that started the descent. I’m hoping you could explain what that entails — that is, can you lose consciousness and accidentally trip the descent “button.” (I guess I’m grasping for an explanation other than the guy just willingly drove the plane into the mountain.) Very sad.

    • Lena says:

      I’ve been wondering the same thing – people who are unconscious are often still breathing. And while I’ve heard that there’s an alarm triggered when the autopilot is shut off (if this is incorrect, please let me know), but how can they tell from a voice recorder with no picture exactly which button was triggered?

      Also, is it possible that the cockpit door system just jammed? In other words, is there any way to plug the holes in the stories coming out of the media?

  159. Angela L says:

    As a member of the traveling public, the revelation that one of the pilots (seemingly) intentionally brought down the plane somehow does not put me off flying at all. I find the prospect of a lone, mentally unstable pilot much less scary than a mysterious mechanical malfunction that no one has control over.

  160. Kevin Brady says:

    Good information Patrick – Id be interested in hearing more about how pilots can “program escape routes” into the computer FMS ahead of time?

    Another point I haven’t heard – In the US isn’t it protocol to have a flight attendent stand at the cockpit door or enter the cockpit when one pilot leaves the flight decK? – usually positioning a beverage/food cart between her/him and the main cabin? Wouldn’t this have prevented or at least made improbably a similar situation?

  161. John says:

    Patrick, Lufthansa has mentioned that they do not do psychiatric evaluations of their crew members. Is this normal practice or something that is more isolated?

  162. Surly Duff says:

    “It’s clear that at some point the crew either lost control, became disoriented, or were incapacitated.”

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand wrong.

    • Patrick says:

      Thanks, smartypants. I put a lot of work into my posts. Maybe you should write them instead?

      I was writing based on what was known only hours after the accident.

      And I love it when people leave smartass comments anonymously, with masked emails.

      • Mike Harrell says:


        Just ignore the troll. Your website is almost always the first and usually the only source I consult when airplane and airline issues (particularly crashes) occur. Your insight and explanation are always appreciated, particularly by someone like myself who is not a person most excited to be getting on a plane. I look forward to any continuing insights you have concerning this most recent tragic (and scary) event.

      • Max says:

        I’m not an english native speaker but I suppose that “incapacitated” could apply to a pilot that cannot enter in the cockpit and to a pilot that probably loses his mind in the cockpit…

      • Pillai says:

        What a shithead! FU surly. Sorry Patrick – he’s a douche. Trying to one up in here, over this tragedy?

  163. Seth says:

    The industry has had to put measures into place to provide protection from suicidal passengers. Now they may have to do the same to provide protection from suicidal crew members. This is sad. Maybe it’s a one-off and we should hope it doesn’t happen again. But maybe it’s an “inspiration” to others. Now that it’s happened we can start listing all the potential triggers: mental illness, terrorist affiliation, just a bad day.

  164. Rod says:

    Today (3/26) a French prosecutor is claiming that the co-pilot (his term, not mine) knowingly and deliberately flew the plane into the mountain, after locking the command pilot out of the cockpit.

    Only two days after the crash, isn’t that a precipitous rush to judgement?

    I’m thinking that in the US, our NTSB wouldn’t ever speculate on a cause before both recorders had been found and examined. I believe the FDR hasn’t even been found yet.

  165. HKS says:

    Earlier, BBC Radio 4 were using the term “co-pilot”, and their “expert” aviation source was using same.

    Now, an hour later, I notice they have switched to “first officer”.

  166. Dr E M Scott says:

    I am a qualified Aeronautical Engineer and an Aerodynamicist, and I believe that the recent declarations by the French authorities are a rush to judgement.

    There are several questions: –

    Why did the plane stay on the same heading and gradually descend?
    Why did the plane impact the ground at a low angle and skid along the ground?
    If the co-pilot was committing suicide, why did he not take control of the plane and steer it into the side of a mountain?

    Possible answer: –

    The co-pilot was incapacitated in some way, and was unconscious, which is why he did not respond to the pilot.
    The plane would have been kept on its heading by the autopilot.
    The plane was trimmed to fly straight and level prior to the incident, and something caused the aerodynamics of the plane to change, so that it went out of trim nose down.

    A possible explanation for this is loss of pressurisation in the cockpit.
    This could have been caused by damage to the windscreen, as has been suggested elsewhere. The rest of the cabin would have continued to be pressurised. The pressure differential across the cabin door would have prevented the pilot from opening the cabin door.

    • Michael says:

      Seems unlikely.
      If they can hear on the tape that the fist officer is still breathing, I’m sure they would be able to detect a depressurization event.

    • cmurf says:

      You’re an aeronautical engineer, and you think either the door or wall between cockpit and cabin is airtight? And if it were airtight with both sides pressurized, isn’t there something conspicuously missing about the shape of the door/wall, should one side become depressurized?

      I’ll sooner believe the 1st officer has someone held hostage by a 3rd party as his motivation, rather than a non-curved non-airtight hinged door could act as a pressurization bulkhead.

      • Jaser says:

        This comment is beyond stupid. Take a few pressure vessel classes and you will see flat caps are much more common then curved surfaces. Also cockpits pressurized separately, so do some research before your next comment.

    • Alastair says:

      On an A320, entering the door access code will not, on its own, open the door. Instead, it activated an alarm inside the flight deck. The pilot on the inside then has up to 90 seconds during which he/she can override the code and prevent the door from opening. The intention is clear – even if an unauthorised person somehow got the code, they still can’t force entry to the flight deck. Normal SOP on the only airline to which I have access is that before entering the code, the pilot on the outside will phone into the flight deck identifying himself and giving a pre-arranged password. Without that call, the pilot on the inside should refuse access.

      The point is that were the pilot on the inside unconscious, he couldn’t override the code and the door would open about 90 seconds after the code was entered. For that not to have happened, the co-pilot MUST have been conscious.

      A possible solution (already mentioned below) is that when one of the pilots leaves the flight deck for any reason, a member of the cabin crew takes their place. Standing with his/her back to the door, he/she can open it simply by turning a handle, like on any normal door.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree that there has been a rush to judgment & would like to hear more responses to this comment, which seems very well-reasoned to me. From the Mirror: “Marseilles prosecutor Brice Robin said a black box recording from the flight shows 28-year-old Lubitz was breathing normally and did not respond to the pleas of his co-pilot after locking him out of the cockpit and driving the plane downwards.”

      Would someone about to fly their plane into a mountain be breathing normally?

    • Nicholas Robinson says:

      You regrettably fail to take into account that the cockpit door is set to open in 30 seconds if someone in the cockpit is unable to open it due to incapacitation. The first officer had to deliberately flick a switch to prevent the door from opening, and each time he did this the door would have been impenetrable by any means available even to the pilot and the flight crew for a full five minutes.

      You’re an aeronautical engineer?

  167. KWW says:

    I personally think these sort of tragedies can perhaps be prevented by installing cameras in the cockpits and that they record everything live and transmit to air traffic control. this way it at least can show what happened. the cameras are hidden and not visible to the crew. The manufacturers will place them in different spots on every plane, even in the same model of aircraft the placement will be unique. So to prevent tampering ahead of time.

    Also when ever the lock on the cockpit door is engaged a signal goes to the air traffic control so they know when the door locks and when it is unlocked, and at what procedure said lock is being engaged and the purpose. There should be a button in the cockpit that must be pressed to that identifies to the air traffic control why a lock is being engaged, i.e. emergency, bathroom break, etc. this must be done to engage the locking mechanism, or it won’t lock. If it is due to any emergency the air traffic control will be notified. Also on the outside of the door there should be emergency radio communication apparatus to notify air traffic control should any trouble in the cockpit prevent cabin crew from entering the cabin. In this case the locked out pilot would have been able to call into air traffic control from the cabin that there was an issue. Also there should be auto pilot controls secretly placed in secure place in pilot only bathroom that code is given only to pilots(each pilot has their own different code not the same) These secret controls will allow the fortified bathroom with armoured door to be a safe and secret control room for the flight. Only when engaged by code would secret panel open to reveal controls for the sircraft. I have no idea if this is possible but seems to me it should be given a good think.

    • Carol says:

      In your first sentence you mention prevention, but your suggestions would have no such effect. A pilot who is determined to crash can still do so. In this particular case, early news reports indicate that ATC was in fact transmitting to the pilot, which of course accomplished nothing.

      More generally, I’m concerned that this accident may cause more revelation of security procedures, which are more effective if the people trying to violate them don’t know in advance what they are. This is an extremely rare event, rarer than workplace shootings, and certainly far, far more rare than shootings at home or on the streets. Adding more layers of technology can have adverse consequences as well, and cameras in the cockpit won’t make passengers any safer. Remember when you are driving, particularly when you are only separated from oncoming traffic by a painted line on the asphalt, you are betting your life that oncoming drivers aren’t drunk, drug impaired or crazy. You are safer on any airplane because there are two pilots who have both passed through multiple checks, operating an airplane within a maze of rules and regulations. And I’d like to remind everyone that all statements so far are sheer speculation; there is little information and we are not served well by the conjectures of a prosecutor who obviously has no knowledge of airplanes or airline procedures. It’s irritating that he made such definitive statements when the evidence doesn’t support them.

  168. Volker says:

    Sorry for getting carried away on that muslim rumor. As I said before it was only a rumor at the time that I wanted to share. Apologies

  169. Alex says:

    Major news outlets, including The New York Times (, The Washington Post (, and the Associated Press ( are still using pilot/co-pilot instead of captain/first officer. Sigh.

  170. Volker says:

    Lufthansa has now confirmed the names of the pilots to be Capt: Patrik S and Co-Pilot: Andreas L aparently the latter was responsible for the crash the latest news is suggesting. So the below rumor is not true apparently, but the suicide theory has just gained significant strength.

  171. Volker says:

    The latest rumor (only rumor at the time) is aparently that the captain that locked himself into the cockpit was a Malay probably Muslim (radicalized?) His name: David Vengadasalam. You can find his profile on linkedin. Germanwings captain since 2011. Several paralells to MH370… Oh man this has a bad taste to it…

    • Michael says:

      Not quite as bad a taste as your comment, automatically blaming this on the Muslims.

      The copilot, who locked himself in, was a German national named Andreas Lubitz.

    • rossie says:

      Vengadasalam doesn’t sound malay, do not make any conclusion without all evidence gathered, and investigated.

    • Suhaimi Fariz says:

      David Vengadasalam is INDIAN. A Malay name would be like…MINE.

  172. Volker says:

    If you think about it more people have been killed by suicidal pilots the last year (4U9525+MH370) than in conventional airline accidents (counting out MH017 that was a war crime). The fact that this is possible are the from the inside lockable doors implemented after 911. This needs to be changed now!!!

    • Alex says:

      Come on people. Ockham’s razor. It’s much more likely that the pilot at the helm got incapacitated somehow, and the one who was outside simply forgot the code to get in. And couldn’t.

      • Ragnarredbeard says:

        Yeah, the other pilot forgot the code. And so did the flight attendants who also have the code. Please.

      • Jason says:

        That’s not Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor says to favor the solution that requires the fewest assumptions. If anything, your solution requires more assumptions.

        • Gene says:

          But it does fall under Hanlon’s Razor, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

          • Jason says:

            No it doesn’t, because the incapacitated co-pilot/locked out pilot isn’t adequately explained by incompetence (e.g., how did the plane descend at a relatively steady 4,000 fpm?).

  173. JuliaZ says:

    My first thought when I read an article that mused about why no distress call had been issued was, “aviate, navigate, communicate.” Thanks for saturating my brain and teaching me something that’s actually stuck in there. 🙂

    My other initial reaction here was pilot suicide. Good weather/visibility, recent mechanicals, light load factor, lack of terrorist activity in France, etc., all suggest but don’t require a deliberate failure. Much will be made of the fact that the co-pilot who remained in the cabin had “only” 600 hours of flight time in that airframe, but of course, he was fully qualified to fly it. Still, I am sure that I’m not the only one that wishes that the guy with 10 times the experience was the one on the side of the door with the controls.

    In any case, despite a plane essentially reduced to shrapnel in difficult terrain, I bet they will be able to work out what happened here. RIP to all those who lost their lives and condolences especially that high school that lost 16 10th-graders and 2 teachers. As the parent of a 9th grader who has gone on exchange trips, I won’t lie; it puts a lump in my throat to think about this crash.

    Still, flying is the safest way to travel and I won’t hesitate to board Alaska in April or May, though I’ll also be admit that I’ll be happy to be stepping aboard Boeing metal.

    Please keep us updated as there is more to report that you might understand and we might misinterpret. Thanks for keeping the rhetoric and fear-mongering down. It strikes a good balance against the blather out there, though the usual fear-mongering and exaggeration does seem a bit toned down for this accident.

  174. Volker says:

    To me its obvious that this is a case of pilot suicide: If the pilot left in the cockpit was unconcious he would not have initiated a controlled decend. And if he had collapsed over the control column unconciously thus disengaging the autopilot it would have been a steeper erratic decend or nosedive as other similar cases have shown. In stead he initiated a controlled decend not answereing anyone onboard or at ATC. This bought him enough time to fly the plane into a mountain side at high speed (400knts) to commit suicide before anyone on the plane or from the ground could stop him. At a normal landing decend his speed had been closer to 250 knots and with flaps extended like on final approach Veeref speed is only 145 knots approx. This circumstance indicates that him crashing the plane was intentional. If he had inteded to do an emergency landing he had steered clear of the mountains or at least found flattish terrain, reduced thrust to idle, extended full flaps and lowered the gear all to reduce speed to just about Veeref in order to prevent as much damage as possible. Another heavy circumstance is the fact that Airbus has designed a security feature that allows the locked out pilot to unlock the cockpit door from the outside by a presscode unlocking the door withinin 30 seconds. His attempts to get in lasted approx 8min. However if the pilot inside the cockpit bolts down the door intentionally from the inside even with this code the door is inaccessible due to the measures implemented after 911.

    So to wrap it up we have several circumstances that point to suicide:

    1) one pilot locked the other out of the cockpit intentionally
    2) the decend was controlled (not erratic indicating loss of control) and at high speed into a mountain wall
    3) no attempts were made to reduce speed, lower flaps or gear
    4) no answers or distress calls from the pilot inside the cockpit – total silence (to buy time as he had made up his mind)
    5) the pilot in the cockpit was consious as he initiated a decend and locked the door from the inside – both were intentional concious actions

    What more do we need to prove that this was pilot suicide?

    • Richard says:

      I don’t actually know enough about how the doors work these days, so I can’t comment on those points. But I agree that based on the way the doors should be designed, it seems intentional locking may be the case. As for the “controlled” descent – I assume this issue has been corrected (or never existed on A320s), but there was a crash caused once because one of the pilots knocked the stick while they were investigating an issue. It wasn’t enough to disengage most of the automated systems, but it was enough to lose automatic altitude hold and it went into a steady descent and crashed into the ocean before they realised what had happened. So if that issue is possible on A320s, it might be possible for a pilot to become unconscious and knock the stick. I would agree it’s unlikely though.

  175. Catherine says:

    I was very saddened to hear that one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit. As it seems that can only be done intentionally by the pilot in control of the aircraft, another murder-suicide immediately comes to mind. Egypt Air, Silk Air, MH370, FedEx(unsuccessful but debilitating). How many more deliberate acts of violence by crew will it take before action is taken to prevent this from happening again? I have heard that pilot associations fought (and lost the battle against) the removal of flight engineers from the cockpit. One wonders if a flight attendant sitting in the cockpit really could have been able to stop a pilot murder-suicide? A deterrent for sure, but possibly not one that a calculating pilot would not be able to overcome. Workplace violence occurs and an airline is a workplace where the very people who are entrusted with the lives and safety of their co-workers and customers have the ability to incapacitate and murder them all within a few minutes. And while we can comfort ourselves that per millions of flights, such acts are extremely rare, and we shouldn’t worry, truth is we do and will continue to worry that someone who has been pushed to the limits, will take it out on themselves and everyone else she or he can.

    • Anonymous says:

      My God! I was reading your post and I immediately got confused. Had I written it? Because just twenty or so minutes earlier, i had written the following in an email to my sister, and I copy and paste exactly:

      “In fact, I think that pilot suicides are now going to increase. The thought has now been firmly planted — not only in this crash, but a number of others . . . MH370, Silk Air, FedEx (see Auburn Calloway) and Egyptair among them — and indeed, the thought of going out in a blaze of glory with hundreds of other souls to go with you is somewhat appealing.”

      Bizarre. Great minds . . .

  176. dave says:

    now they say the pilot was locked out of the cabin and was banging on the door to get back in

  177. Andrew says:

    The answer seems obvious. They need to install a toilet in the cockpit – and mandate that both pilots must remain in the cockpit throughout. That seems the best way to square away the issue with the cockpit needing to be inaccessible from the outside but whilst trying to avoid a situation where a suicidal pilot can have the cockpit to himself.

    • TonyS says:

      The co-pilot was perhaps unconscious. He must have not committed a suicide.

      • Ragnarredbeard says:

        The guy outside the cockpit can enter a code into the door to get in – unless the guy inside has manually locked the door. Unconscious pilots do not manually lock the door.

  178. CJ says:

    Someone below mentioned giving the pilots a .38. My response is: so instead of figuring out how to get a firearm on board a plane and past TSA, the terrorists (domestic or foreign) could just push their way into a cockpit, retrieve the loaded .38 (with spare ammo!) and now hijack the plane/kill hostages?

    The “locked out” aspect is troublesome, but, as Patrick notes, pilots are concentrating on flying, as they should be. I’m not a pilot, but as a passenger I don’t think they need to be worrying about who’s going to come busting in the door or where the weapon is or whether it’s loaded. An attack on the cockpit with gun-carrying pilots seems like it would require them to defend themselves, try to neutralize the attacker, maintain control of the weapon, and most critically, take their minds off piloting.

    I think a personalized key punch code assigned to a flight crew would be ideal. Everybody gets their own 6 digit number, ATC or the pilot or the airline could “authorize” that code to be used for the desired period of time. That way only (or almost only), authorized personnel can open the door, regardless of what’s happening in the cockpit. If tracked, it would also be of assistance in crash investigations to get some idea of who is where.

    From what I’ve been reading, it seems the FDR’s record minute details about the plane and “only” the audio of the cockpit. That’s seems…incomplete? or at least, not as good as it could be.

    • John says:

      Its not that easy to disarm people. (perhaps you watch too many movies) Had I a .38 instead of a locked cockpit door, I would shoot the offender toot sweet. If the kook shot me first their would be noise and time for other passengers to shoot him back. Arm everyone. Best solution.

  179. Jeff Korpa says:

    Let me ask this — what is Germanwings’ SOP for one pilot in the cockpit? My understanding is that on U.S. carriers post 9/11, if one of the pilots leaves, a flight attendant takes the pilots spot.

    That said, if at the conclusion of the matter Germanwings Flight 9525 turns out to be another SilkAir Flight 185, it will be a real tragedy as nothing will have been learned.

  180. Sherman Hesselgrave (Home) says:


    I saw a news scroll tonight that said one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit, which, along with other data (craft did not disintegrate aloft; no mayday), made me wonder if this was another case of intentional flying into terrain. Still hoping the black box data will provide a better answer.

    • Squidley says:

      This was intentional as the door was bolted from the inside. The pilot who was locked out has a code to open the door but this can be disabled from inside. Even if the copilot blacked out, the plane was on auto pilot and the pilot would have been able to get access to the cockpit.

  181. Eirik says:

    Patrick on CNN now…

  182. Volker says:

    I agree with Anon all circumstances point to pilot suicide here and thus murder of 149 people. This is very very embarrising for Lufthansa as it was their pilot.

  183. Anon says:

    With this new report pilot suicide/mass murder is the most likely explanation (just like MH370).

    It’s time to remove the deadbolts from inside the cockpit. If someone on the outside has the door code they must be able to get in. To get the door code, a terrorist would need to get it out of the alternate pilots’ heads, which is not likely post-911

  184. Anonymous says:

    Probably one of the pilots stepped out for a break, the door locking behind her, and the other pilot had a medical issue.

    • Squidley says:

      This was intentional as the door was bolted from the inside. The pilot who was locked out has a code to open the door but this can be disabled from inside. Even if the copilot blacked out, the plane was on auto pilot and the pilot would have been able to get access to the cockpit.

  185. John says:

    Oh no, no no. If this Times report is at all valid, this just turned very, very ugly. You’d hope that the whole plane was unaware or unconscious – that there was no anticipation, dread or agony. I’m so sorry.

  186. Speed says:

    One more article about Flight Data Recorders.

    Flight Data Recorders:
    Built, Tested to Remain Intact After a Crash

  187. Speed says:

    For those really really interested, here are the proceedings from an October 7, 2014 NTSB Forum: Emerging Flight Data and Locator Technology. 196 pages.

  188. cmurf says:

    Pilot had left the cockpit, was unable to get back in, audio suggests he was trying to smash the door in.

    So, John’s comment about the reinforced door to the cockpit gets interesting…

    • Eirik says:

      Interesting twist in the story.
      I still doubt it was any sort of pilot hijacking and such. If so, why would he fly the plane like that instead of just crashing it straight down. Must have been an indisposition of some sort.

      • Ragnarredbeard says:

        A320 flight control software won’t let you power dive the aircraft. But if you keep the descent angle shallow and descend at approx 3000 feet per minute you can fly her into a mountain after 8-10 minutes of nice uninterrupted time.

  189. Rapier says:

    I checked and it appears there was no internet service for passengers. Too bad, if there had been then messages would provide information or a sudden lack of traffic would indicate decompression and total failure of the passengers to acquire oxygen.

    Like MH370 decompression, mishandled, is my first guess.

  190. Michael W says:

    There is something about this crash which has me very puzzled, which I have not seen discussed in the media.

    From the maps I’ve seen, the plane was approximately over the coast when it began its descent. It then continued to follow its normal flight path (except for altitude) until it crashed.

    Why did the pilots not change course? Why keep flying towards mountains when you can’t maintain altitude? It suggests that despite the straight line descent the pilots were at least unable to steer.

    (It being early days, it may simply be that my information about the flight path is wrong, but whatever the flight path, surely 8 minutes was enough to steer to not-over-mountains.)

  191. Randy says:

    We look to the airline industry as the epitome of efficiency when it comes to safety. However, now with images of missing or damaged flight recorders and several major mystery crashes in the last couple years, the industry looks like something out of the nineteenth century when it comes to real-time data capture. Can you remind us again why it is so difficult for the airline industry to have real-time data capture of its flights, especially over heavily populated regions? If they charge us for wi-fi, can’t they send information instead of using a flight recorder?

    • toughluck says:

      Completely correct. The bandwidth requirements for voice recording and for flight data recording are pitiful, really, and over populated areas, it would be a no-brainer. In fact, it would be possible even over open ocean, and it would also be very easy to add GPS positioning data to the stream.
      I wouldn’t say “instead of using a flight recorder” — it makes sense to have them on board, but nevertheless, your point is very valid in that the FR and CVR are both extremely outdated devices.
      Solid state memory is cheap, reliable and extremely high density these days. There’s literally nothing that would prevent sticking some three or four high capacity SSDs into the recorders to dump raw data onto them (using no data compression and no block reordering for easy data recovery if damaged). The high number of disks is for redundancy.
      Plus, there should be more data recorded — the CVR should probably include a video feed from the cockpit and maybe some feeds from the cabin and from outside the plane. The FR would definitely benefit from adding GPS coordinates to the mix of data being stored on it.
      There’s certainly a lot that can be done, but it all requires one thing, and I think it’s the crux of the problem — all this needs to meet certifications and nobody wants to bother with it if they don’t see its necessity.

      • Speed says:

        toughluck wrote, “Solid state memory is cheap, reliable and extremely high density these days. There’s literally nothing that would prevent sticking some three or four high capacity SSDs into the recorders to dump raw data onto them … ”

        L3 already makes them.

        • toughluck says:

          Thanks for the link. I checked their page, but the units are still woefully underperforming compared to current mainstream devices, not to even mention cutting edge.
          2048 words per second for 25 hours may sound like much, but:
          2048 words=4096 bytes
          That’s four kilobytes per second. After 25 hours, it’s a pitiful 370 MB.
          The four-channel 2-hour high-quality audio doesn’t convince, either. What’s high quality? I can’t be bothered to look it up, so let’s assume it’s 48 kHz sampling rate with 24 bits (I’m being VERY generous, as I presume it’s more like 22.1 kHz at 8 bits). That’s 4.15 GB of data. Again, that’s nothing.
          The same company makes a “Micro Quick Access Recorder” which does the same thing as the FDR, but in a compact, non-rugged, casing. The idea is to be able to access FDR data for review without having to retrieve the FDR itself. The outside dimensions of that µQAR are pretty much the size of a CF card plus some plastic around it and the interface added on the bottom.

          • Speed says:

            I don’t see a need to record more than 25 hours of flight data. The longest non-stop flight I’m aware of is about 17 hours. Alternately it could record a day’s worth of shorter SouthWest Airline type flights.

            With respect to the audio it’s likely that the limiting factor is the bandwidth of the microphones and audio amps that come with the airplanes, not the “black box.”

      • Pastor666 says:

        I guess you’d need to prioritize what data is sent over the various communication mediums. GE claims their jet engines, for instance, generate about 14 gigs of raw data per flight.

        • toughluck says:

          14 gigabytes? That’s nothing, even if it’s per engine and even if it’s just for a two-hour flight. Even then it’ barely 2 MB/s.

      • Roger Wolff says:

        Re: and it would also be very easy to add GPS positioning data to the stream.

        When I analysed the FDR of the 777 that crashed in San Fransisco (they published the raw FDR data before the final report), it did have GPS data. They store the GPS-minutes a lot more often than the GPS-degrees. They’ve timed it such that you can always deduce the GPS-degrees from the previous logged data.

    • Michael W says:

      There is no issue (yet) with missing/damaged data recorders. They’ve found one, and we can be confident they will soon find the other. It is less than two days since the crash, it is not unusual for it to take days or weeks to find data recorders.

      Personally, I favour the idea of a ‘panic button’ in the cockpit. If a crisis develops, a pilot pushes the button which starts live-streaming of flight data plus alerts authorities to there being a problem without the pilot needing to divert attention to calling ATC.

      • toughluck says:

        Indeed. There were early reports that the FDR was found, but missing its memory module. It seems that’s not the case, and the FDR was not found as yet.

  192. susan says:

    Patrick, I think that 3 crashes in the last year all under distinctly mysterious circumstances is what has a lot of people shaking their heads. no information from the Asiana CVR/FDR has ever been released, and MH370 remains absolutely unanswered, which of course doesn’t help

    I heard some reports that many (possibly 30) Lufthansa and Germanwings flights were cancelled yesterday secondary to crews “unable to fly”–mass sick out??

    what do you think about the malfunctioning AoA sensors as a possible factor? there was another Lufthansa incident last November where there was a 4000 foot descent from cruise that sounds like it may be a bit similar.

    The lack of signs of *uncontrolled* flight argues against damage, decompression, tail separation, engine failure, and so on. the whole thing makes no sense.

    • toughluck says:

      That’s the Lufthansa Flight 1829 incident, and yeah, it seems similar on the surface. I bet Airbus board is quaking in their boots. If it’s found to be a cause or at least a contributing cause, that would lead to a grounding of an unprecedented number of aircraft.
      As for uncontrolled flight, if the plane was on autopilot, it would stay on a preset path regardless of whether the crew was incapacitated, so it doesn’t rule out decompression — I suggested below that one of the pilots could have remained conscious long enough to set the autopilot to a lower flight level.

    • Speed says:

      Susan wrote, “I heard some reports that many (possibly 30) Lufthansa and Germanwings flights were cancelled yesterday secondary to crews “unable to fly”–mass sick out??”

      Some crew members are unable to work due today as a result of grief and emotional effects from yesterday’s crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 in the French Alps, says the airline. Noting that some employees lost “good friends”, it adds that it sympathises with the affected staff.

      Germanwings has cancelled a single flight but is otherwise operating its regular schedule today.

      • CJ says:

        I saw another news report quoting the airline spokesperson, who said the airline respects the wishes of flight crew who don’t feel fit to fly. If true, I think that’s a great policy given the many lives these crews hold in their hands coupled with, at the very least, a level of distraction in thinking about a crash that occurred earlier that same day. Or at the bare minimum, of bit of time for reflection on the dead.

  193. Speed says:

    Investigators have succeeded in extracting usable data, including sounds and voices from the damaged black box, Rémi Jouty, director of France’s aviation accident investigation office told a news conference in Le Bourget, outside of Paris.
    [ … ]
    “At this stage, we don’t have the slightest explanation or interpretation as to what led this plane to fly down,” Mr. Jouty said.

  194. John says:

    So, are these wonderful “reinforced cockpit doors” stopping the flight crew from helping when pilots have an emergency?

  195. cmurf says:

    “To me, it seems very weird: this very long descent at normal speed without any communications…” senior French official, who is involved in the investigation.

    It might be an understatement from the perspective of any crash being unexpected. But in the context of descending without announcing suggests the moment the decent began there was a sufficiently developed emergency. Had it been minor, there’d have been an ATC call. Helios 522 even managed to get a few words out.

    As for how you completely demote the hacking theory, I think that’s understandable but it’s also overconfidence without facts. The various transport associations aren’t so confident.

    There are many examples of proprietary systems being poked with sticks by researchers who stumble on significant control access or ways to crash systems that the designers never anticipated. The barrier to hacking aircraft computer systems specifically, is access: the systems are proprietary, expensive, and aren’t something you can poke in your living room. The hacking hypothesis is as valid or invalid as any other, and is part of the same process of elimination as other factors.

  196. Eirik says:

    I was listening to the radio while driving to work today, and the Prime Minister of Australia had a press conference. As you may know, there were two Australians on board (a mother and her son, RIP).

    I know this sounds bizarre, but if you want your 15 minutes of “fame” and you cant make it any other way, the safest way to get it is to die in a plane crash which gets world wide media coverage.
    A car accident would, at best, give you a tiny note up in the left corner of page 17 or something.

    I guess the best way to explain this is that plane crashes are still extremely rare.

    As for the media coverage, I do not appreciate some of the US media`s view on the investigation team. They talk like if they are not capable of doing their job and suggesting that they should get help from the US. This happen every time there is a plane crash. They make it sound like the rest of the world are not capable of anything and that “big brother US” should step in and lead the way. Guess what media morons, the rest of the world are not a bunch of complete fools.

    • JuliaZ says:

      I am an American, and I agree; I cringed at the insinuation that European experts couldn’t handle this on their own. Airbus folks are the most qualified to determine what went wrong with this aircraft, as Boeing engineers would have been if it had been one of their airframes.

      I do hope they are able to determine what happened. This is the first time I can recall hearing about a flight data recorder being so damaged that parts of it were missing. It must have been a hell of an impact. Quick death for all, and that is a mercy.

  197. toughluck says:

    “I love reminding people of the year 1985, when 27 serious accidents killed 2,500 people.”
    I think you might want to rewrite that sentence.

    As for the topic at hand. I found it very unusual that the plane appeared to have started a descent slope for as if it was heading for a landing. It didn’t deviate from the flight path, either. If it was a double engine failure, then the crew still had ample room and time to glide to Marseilles or Nice and align with the runway for an attempt to land (and to obviously try to restart the engines, as the case may be).
    If they in fact lost both engines, it’s not like they would continue to Düsseldorf if they managed to restart one, they’d try to touch down as soon as possible, wouldn’t they?
    If it’s not a hijacking, or pilot suicide, then pilots being incapacitated is a very likely theory. Maybe one of them managed to hit the descent control on the autopilot before passing out, hoping to gain enough air pressure for the pilots to recover, but they never did?
    As for the aviate/navigate/communicate, how long would it take to say “Germanwings 9525. Mayday! Mayday!” on the emergency channel or to squawk 7700? Not very long, which is why I think they didn’t have time to navigate, much less communicate before becoming incapacitated.

  198. MikeN says:

    Was always curious, Who pays the cost for a crash rescue, recovery, cleanup and such?

  199. Speed says:

    Patrick wrote, ” A roughly four thousand foot-per-minute descent is not particularly steep, and would imply the crew was still in control of the aircraft, and that it was not “plummeting” or “diving,” …

    For comparison, Air France 447’s decent rate (June 1, 2009) was about 11,000 feet per minute.

  200. John O'Dwyer says:

    Thank you, Patrick. I always check your website after these incidents to get some proper perspective.

    One thought occurs to me: back in the bad old days, most crashes occurred (or seemed to occur) at take-off or landing. These days, those critical phases seem to be much less likely to produce catastrophic accidents; which leaves us with fewer, but more mysterious, disasters. Hence the frenetic speculation in the media about just what might have gone wrong.

  201. Alejandro Gonzalez says:

    Patrick, among the “100 other things” that may have caused this tragedy, suicide by one of the pilots has be to considered.
    It would explain why at 10.30 there was a communication with ATC confirming staying at FL380, but at 10.31 the plane started a ~3000 ft/m descent and communicated no further despite being questioned by ATC on this unexpected event.
    It would not be the first time that a pilot commits suicide, killing the crew and passengers too. In some previous occasions it happened when one of the pilots leaves the cockpit to go to the toilet. The other one locks the door from the inside and initiates the fatal descent (Or taking a long tour into oblivion as might have happened with MH370).
    In your experience, when is a suitable time for a pilot to visit the toilet? On reaching cruise altitude, maybe?

    • John says:

      Yeah those wonderful reinforced cockpit doors:
      %probability a kook will kill both pilots and wreck the plane: .000000009
      %probability the pilots will need a flight attendants help in an emergency 99.0
      but hey, government pigs know best right? Forget aviation experts and reality.

      the response to 911 should have been to hand the pilot a .38 and be done with it. Not war the whole world and lock help out of the cockpit.

      • Richard says:

        Based on history, there have been more hijackings and hijacking attempts than situations where a flight attendant would be of help in the cockpit. I would rather armed doors with codes for entry (which may be what they have – I’m not really sure) than the pilots armed. If this is a suicide, then armed pilots would have had the same result (the suicidal pilot would have shot the other). And are you really confident that if taken by surprise, a pilot will be accurately able to shoot and incapacitate several hijackers?

        • toughluck says:

          Note that hijackings in the past were easier since the flight deck was more accessible. And pilot suicide would have been more difficult with three or even four pilots in the flight deck.

        • John says:

          And today we find the wonderful central planner war mongers “reinforced” door is EXACTLY why the plane crashed. Eat crow.

    • bimbabinerl says:

      I’m not a pilot but I found your comment by doing some research for pilot suicides.

      There has just been a statement on the news media that the voice recorder has tracked one pilot has left the cockpit and couldn’t get back in. Knocking and then trying to kick in the door didn’t help. And the other pilot in the cockpit didn’t answer him a single time.

      So the theory about suicide most likely when the other pilot goes to the toilet might become true here for #4u9525

      • JohnnyG says:

        Woke up this AM to read the latest on the pilot apparently being locked out, guess I hadn’t realized after all the flying I do that was the case. I’m usually long-haul and when up near the cockpit have noticed a steward rolling a cart and “guarding” the cockpit while it appears a pilot uses the facilities – so no one is being locked out.

        So leaving one person at the controls who can lock everyone out does seem a poorly thought out strategy. And while everyone jumps to the idea of suicide, why wouldn’t an aneurism, stroke, heart attack also be possible scenarios – any incapacitating medical emergency?

        Be interesting to see what’s released on the pilot identity and personal history, etc.

        • toughluck says:

          Aneurysm, stroke or any other incapacitation would be a possibility, but why would the remaining pilot deadbolt the door without a possibility from getting in from the outside?
          Is it a standard procedure at Lufthansa and/or Germanwings? I doubt it.

        • Lordmark says:

          He was breathing untill the last second. The informations we have implies that that the co-pilot was concious, not communicating and breathing.

          • SweetMarie says:

            I think the pilot flying the plane at the time of impact most likely was breathing normally because he locked the door to keep everyone out, jammed the keypad lock, set the autopilot to descend then take whatever pharmacutecal this is going to allow me to hit that mountain without being able to stop myself or for that matter hear what is happening in the plane behind me.

            It explains the smooth descent over the forced dive of Silk Air. It is reported that the Silk Air pilot really had to work hard to keep the plane in the steep dive because the plane itself would be fighting to regain normal flight.

            I think this guy literally put the plane itself on self destruct and took himself out of the equation. Horrible to contemplate.

    • Vidor says:

      Well, the black box has been recovered and listened to, and “pilot suicide” is the answer. Namely the co-pilot. The recording has the pilot banging on teh door.

  202. Dan Ullman says:

    “Hacked” to someone who works in the computer trade is very much like “co-pilot” — a widely misused phrased that has gotten to the point of meaning nothing.

    Trivia I know but Germanwings has changed their logo on their web page to gray and black