It doesn’t take much for something to stand out in the sleepy, insular commune of Prads-Haute-Bléone, located in the very heart of the French Alps.
It was this familiarity that made an explosion on March 24, 2015, a rare day of predicament for Prads-Haute-Bléone’s residents. The blast emanated from the nearby mountain range and assaulted the eardrums of everyone in the vicinity.
First responders arrived at the blast site and found a smorgasbord of debris strewn about the mountainside. The smell of kerosene was abundant and served as a telling clue regarding the source of the explosion.
Just minutes before, air traffic control in Lyon had radioed the responders telling them that an airplane was missing, and that its last known location had been close to Prads-Haute-Bléone. As the seriousness of the situation dawned on the responders, the macabre jigsaw was beginning to fall into place.
An Airbus A320 had crashed into the mountainside at over 440mph, fragmenting itself, and all of its passengers, on impact. Within an hour, the flight was identified as Germanwings Flight 9525 – which had departed Barcelona only 90 minutes before.
Flight 9525 was carrying 144 passengers and six crew on its 90 minute journey from Barcelona to Dusseldorf. At the helm was captain Patrick Sodenheimer, a vertran with over 6,00 flight hours, and co-pilot Andreas Lubitz (27), who had logged 630 flight hours.
Flight 9525 was only two hours long. By every metric, this was a standard journey, one that Captain Sodenheimer was more than familiar with. Lubitz, too, was no stranger to this journey despite comparative lack of flying hours.
Piloting had always been Lubitz’s dream. During his youth, his bedroom walls were plastered with posters and artwork from various airlines. Model airplanes and aviation books were another common sight. As soon as he was old enough, Lubitz joined a gliding club in his hometown of Montabaur, Germany, and possessed a tremendous knack for the observation, focus, and decisiveness needed for the pursuit. Lubitz, as he had long suspected, was a natural pilot.
Andreas Lubitz applied to Lufthansa Airways immediately after high school. His strong natural acumen was swiftly noticed at the academy and he placed in the top percentile of all of the aspiring pilots.
As bright as Lubitz’s aviation career seemed on the surface, there were secret demons to his psyche that he kept well-obscured from those closest to him. He flunked out of the Lufthansa Flight Program just eight weeks after starting due to extreme depressive episodes. So profound was this depression that he spent an extended period of time in psychiatric care and was given a laundry-list of antidepressant drugs to help suppress his darkest thoughts.
‘’Flight 9525, prepare for take off…’’
Twenty-six minutes passed between Flight 9525’s scheduled take off and its eventual ascent into Spanish airspace. The sounds of shuffled in-flight magazines and twiddling of passengers’ thumbs likely reverberated around the cabin in an unremarkable soundtrack.
In the cockpit, Captain Sodenheimer was flying the Airbus A320 to its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet. As the usual radio correspondence filled his headset, he turned to Lubitz and explained that, in his haste, he had forgotten to use the bathroom.
‘’If you need to go, now’s your chance.’’ Luditz stated.
‘’Good idea’’, replied the Captain, ‘’I’ll think I’ll go now.’’
Sodenheimer unbuckled his safety harness and departed for the lavatory at 10:30am. Lubitz now had the entire cockpit to himself.
‘’Which Poison Kills Without Pain?”
Andrea Lubitz’s plan had been in the making for some time. Unbeknownst from even those closest to him, he had been harbouring suicidal thoughts and psychopathic tendencies for several months. Despite regular visits to psychiatrists, his mental health never reached a state of equilibrium. A vision disorder, thought to be psychosomatic, had riddled him for the past two years and Lubitz knew that his flying career was over if his superiors found out about it.
The double-whammy of Lubitz’s suicidal tendencies combined with the paranoia surrounding his job were the main catalysts behind his mental erosion. His computer search history was littered with disturbing research such as ‘’drinking gasoline’’ and the morbid question ‘’which poison kills without pain’’? The young co-pilot was a ticking time bomb and the true extent of his decline was a secret that he felt no choice but to hide.
A simple Google search on the night of March 20, 2015, showed the graduation of Lubitz’s suicide plan. An inqiury into the locking mechanism of an Airbus A320 provided telling evidence of a man who, as well as committing suicide, was well within the planning stage of comitting mass murder.
‘’For the love of God, open this door!’’
Captain Sodenheimer only needed to be absent for a few minutes before the plan began. Lubitz promptly lowered the plane’s autopilot altitude to 100ft, its lowest setting, and plunged the plane into a rapid descent.
At 10:34, Sodenheimer returned from the bathroom and found himself unable to get in. Perhaps Lubitz was talking to ATC and was unable to hear the knocking over his headset. There was no need to panic just yet, all the Captain had to do was knock louder.
Lubitz didn’t answer. Nor did he answer air traffic control’s calls regarding Flight 9525’s unauthorized descent. Sodenheimer banged on the door loudly, yelling ‘’let me in!’’, but was, again, met with radio silence.
Passengers in the nose of the cabin had a front-row seat to the unfolding drama. Sodenheimer used his emergency keycard to gain access to the cockpit, but his entry was easily overridden from the controls. The Captain’s increasingly volatile language, recorded on the cockpit voice recorder, was ample evidence that profound panic was beginning to manifest.
Sodenheimer could have bashed at the cockpit door all day and it still wouldn’t have budged an inch. Since the 9/11 attacks, the doors have been designed to withstand even the most extreme batterings. The cockpit voice recorder captured sounds of what is believed to be the aircraft’s crash-axe against the door – along with the screams and wails of the flight’s doomed passengers.
Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed Flight 9525 at 10:41. The rescue team quickly deduced that there were no survivors.
The aftermath of Flight 9525’s crash, (ibtimes.com)
The ghost of Germanwings 9525 still haunts those who were involved in the disaster. families were torn apart and some were lost entirely. Careers were cut short and life experiences were senselessly robbed. For what?
We’ll never know what compelled Andreas Lubtiz to take 149 souls to the grave with him. His motive and rationale behind mass murder were, like everything else on-board, lost in a pile of wreckage.