Airbus pilot researched cockpit doors, suicide before crash

BERLIN — The Germanwings co-pilot investigators believe purposely crashed a plane last week by locking out his captain from the flight deck had researched suicide methods and cockpit-door mechanics prior to the incident, prosecutors said.

Data retrieved from a tablet computer at the Dusseldorf home of Andreas Lubitz showed that he looked up the information in the days prior to the March 24 crash that killed all 150 people on the Airbus A320, the Dusseldorf prosecutors said in a statement Thursday. Lubitz, 27, who had a sick notice for the day of the crash that he concealed from his employer, also looked for medical assistance on the device, the prosecutor said.

The latest findings support the suspicion that Lubitz willfully brought down the aircraft after denying his captain re-entry into the cockpit from a short toilet break while the plane was at cruising altitude. Since the crash, a picture has emerged of a young pilot who had battled depression and interrupted his flight training at Deutsche Lufthansa, only to be readmitted after medical experts found him fit to proceed.

Salvage crews on site in the French Alps have managed to retrieve the flight-data recorder, the second so-called black box on the aircraft that helps investigators reconstruct a plane’s performance prior to an incident. The teams had already found the voice recorder, which had taped conversations and sounds in the cockpit and provided the first clues that Lubitz had consciously brought the single-aisle jet down.

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The two data recorders are being investigated in Paris at the BEA aircraft accident bureau, which is leading the probe.

There’s “reasonable hope” investigators will be able to analyze the content from the second black box, Marseille Prosecutor Brice Robin said at a press conference Thursday.

Aircraft doors are fortified to prevent unauthorized access to the flight deck, a practice that has been in place since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S. While leaving the cockpit isn’t uncommon for a pilot while a plane is at cruising altitude, some airlines require two crew members to remain present in the cockpit at all times, a practice that is now being more widely applied across the industry.

The German government will create a task force with the country’s airlines to examine security measures in the aftermath of the crash. Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said the panel will review safety requirements, including the cockpit door lock, health testing for airline personnel and procedures used to detect psychological distress.

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“We’re in agreement that the high security standards should also be up for discussion as we move forward,” Dobrindt told reporters Thursday in Berlin alongside the president of the German Aviation Association, or BDL, Klaus-Peter Siegloch.

Dobrindt said the government is also considering requiring passengers to provide identification on boarding within Europe’s 26-nation border-free travel zone, known as the Schengen area.

Lufthansa, the owner of Germanwings, said this week that the co-pilot suspected by investigators of crashing Flight 9525 into the French Alps had informed the airline’s flight school six years ago that he battled depression.

Dusseldorf police have completed the gathering of identification data for all crash victims from the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the department said today in a statement. A delegation from Dusseldorf that traveled to the crash site on Tuesday to meet with French colleagues is now returning.

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— With assistance from Tino Andresen in Dusseldorf and Marie Mawad in Paris.