Pi­lot had strug­gles in flight school

Law­suit: FBI found warn­ing signs af­ter Germanwings crash

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Joan Lowy

WASH­ING­TON — The Ger­man pi­lot who de­lib­er­ately flew his air­liner into a moun­tain­side last year had strug­gled with learn­ing to fly and had failed a key test of his skills dur­ing train­ing in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to FBI in­ter­views with his flight in­struc­tors.

An­dreas Lu­b­itz was pro­moted any­way.

But his train­ing dif­fi­cul­ties were one more red flag that should have caused Lufthansa and the air­line’s Ari­zona flight school to take a closer look and dis­cover his his­tory of de­pres­sion, as­serted at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing fam­i­lies of crash vic­tims.

Lu­b­itz was a co-pi­lot for Germanwings, a re­gional air­line owned by Lufthansa, when he locked Flight 9524’s cap­tain out of the cock­pit and set the plane on a col­li­sion course with a moun­tain in the French Alps last year. All 144 pas­sen­gers and six crew mem­bers, in­clud­ing Lu­b­itz, were killed.

One in­struc­tor, Juer­gen Theerkorn, de­scribed Lu­b­itz as “not an ace pi­lot,” and said he failed one flight test be­cause of a “situational aware­ness is­sue.”

In avi­a­tion, loss of situational aware­ness usu­ally means a pi­lot be­comes ab­sorbed in some­thing and loses track of what else is hap­pen­ing with the plane.

Another in­struc­tor, Scott Nick­ell, told the FBI that Lu­b­itz lacked “pro­ce­dural knowl­edge” and had trou­ble with split­ting his at­ten­tion be­tween in­stru­ments Germanwings co-pi­lot An­dreas Lu­b­itz killed 144 pas­sen­gers and six crew mem­bers in the March 2015 crash. in­side the plane and watch­ing what was hap­pen­ing out­side. But while Lu­b­itz strug­gled with train­ing, he would achieve pass­ing scores en­abling him to con­tinue the pro­gram, Nick­ell said.

Lu­b­itz failed one of five check rides, which are im­por­tant tests of a pi­lot’s fly­ing skills, and one of 67 train­ing flights, Matthias Kip­pen­berg, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Air­line Train­ing Cen­ter Ari­zona, told the FBI. How­ever, Kip­pen­berg dis­missed the fail­ures as un­re­mark­able, say­ing stu­dents are given the op­por­tu­nity to re­take the tests. Only 1 or 2 per­cent of stu­dents fail to be pro­moted, he said.

The FBI con­ducted the in­ter­views a week af­ter the March 24, 2015, crash. Sum­maries were only re­cently re­leased by pros­e­cu­tors in Ger­many, ac­cord­ing to at­tor­neys with Kreindler & Kreindler in NewYork, who are rep­re­sent­ing the fam­i­lies in a law­suit against the flight school.

Lufthansa spokes­woman Christina Sem­mel de­clined to com­ment “due to the on­go­ing le­gal pro­ceed­ings.”

The flight school re­ferred calls to Lufthansa. Of­fi­cials for Lufthansa and the flight school didn’t im­me­di­ately re­ply to re­quests for com­ment.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion has re­vealed that Lu­b­itz was be­ing treated for a re­lapse of se­vere de­pres­sion and sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies but had hid the in­for­ma­tion from Germanwings.

Ger­many’s strict pa­tient pri­vacy laws didn’t al­low doc­tors to share med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion with an em­ployer with­out the pa­tient’s per­mis­sion.

Lu­b­itz had had a pre­vi­ous bout of de­pres­sion in 2008 and had in­formed Lufthansa, tak­ing a leave of ab­sence two months af­ter start­ing ground school train­ing in Ger­many. He was al­lowed to re­sume train­ing 10 months later af­ter pro­vid­ing a state­ment from his doc­tor that he had re­cov­ered.

Lu­b­itz was orig­i­nally sched­uled to be­gin his train­ing at the flight school in Ari­zona in Septem­ber 2009, but was resched­uled for Septem­ber 2010. He didn’t start un­til Novem­ber. Lufthansa told the school in an email that the de­lay was due to “a long ill­ness,” Sherri Har­wood, the school’s ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices man­ager, told the FBI.

It re­mains un­clear what in­for­ma­tion the school had about Lu­b­itz’ med­i­cal con­di­tion.

John Goglia, an avi­a­tion safety ex­pert and for­mer Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board mem­ber, agreed with at­tor­neys that Lu­b­itz’s strug­gles were a warn­ing that should have caused the school to look closer, al­though “not a bright red one.”

It’s not un­usual for stu­dents to fail a sin­gle check ride, he said.

The school’s washout rate of only 1 or 2 per­cent seems low, he said.

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