Alps crash pilot had suicidal tendencies in past – prosecutors

DUSSELDORF, Germany (UPDATED) – The co-pilot believed to have deliberately crashed a Germanwings plane into the French Alps was classified as suicidal "several years ago" but had appeared more stable of late, German prosecutors said Monday, March 30.

As investigators in both countries tried to zero in on a potential motive, it emerged that that the first officer, Andreas Lubitz, was receiving treatment from neurologists and psychiatrists who had written him off sick from work a number of times.

However doctors had recently found no sign he intended to hurt himself or others, said Ralf Herrenbrueck, spokesman for the prosecutor's office in the western city of Düsseldorf.

Meanwhile investigators sifting through the wreckage and hundreds of body parts in the French Alps were forced to resume the hunt on foot as bad weather hampered helicopter flights.

"The teams will get to the site via the path that is already in existence," said Yves Naffrechoux of the local mountain police.

Authorities are hoping to identify more DNA from the 150 people who died, as well as locate the jet's second black box that should provide more clues as to the circumstances of the tragedy.

Forensic teams have isolated almost 80 distinct DNA strands from the shattered aircraft and have described the grim task as "unprecedented" given the tricky mountain terrain and the speed at which the plane smashed into the rock.

The flight, en route to Düsseldorf from Barcelona, crashed at a speed of 700 kkm (430 miles) an hour, instantly killing all on board.

No 'organic disorder'

MEMORIAL. The shadow of a woman on a memorial stone for the victims of the Germanwings A320 crash in Le Vernet, France, 28 March 2015. Daniel Karmann/EPA

MEMORIAL. The shadow of a woman on a memorial stone for the victims of the Germanwings A320 crash in Le Vernet, France, 28 March 2015.

Daniel Karmann/EPA

Fending off an international media frenzy, Herrenbrueck, of the Düsseldorf prosecutor's office, criticized conjecture about Lubitz's alleged motives and said German authorities would not take part in "speculation". 

Herrenbrueck said, based on the evaluation of medical documents and the testimony of people who knew the co-pilot, there was still no indication that he had told anyone of his plans or left behind a suicide note.

"Nor have particular circumstances been identified in his personal or professional environment to offer verifiable evidence about a possible motive," he said.

Medical files did not point to any "organic disorder", Herrenbrueck said.

But he added that Lubitz underwent psychotherapy several years ago, before he became a pilot in 2013, "for a long period due to diagnosed suicidal tendencies".

However it said his doctors had found nothing recently that could have pointed to the events of last Tuesday, March 24.

Media reports have emerged that the 27-year-old was taking medication for severe depression and was being treated for problems with his vision, possibly for a potentially career-ending detached retina.

Difficult mountain terrain

CAREFUL MISSION. Search workers are deployed by helicopter at the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus A320, to collect debris and find the second black box, above the town of Seyne-les-Alpes, southeastern France, 29 March 2015. Yoan Valat/EPA

CAREFUL MISSION. Search workers are deployed by helicopter at the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus A320, to collect debris and find the second black box, above the town of Seyne-les-Alpes, southeastern France, 29 March 2015.

Yoan Valat/EPA

Authorities say the working conditions at the inhospitable crash site have hugely slowed their progress.

Not a single body is intact, said Patrick Touron, deputy director of the police's criminal research institute.  

"We have slopes of 40 to 60 degrees, falling rocks, and ground that tends to crumble," he said.

"Some things have to be done by abseiling. Since safety is key, the recovery process is a bit slow, which is a great regret."

Between 400 and 600 body parts were being examined, Touron said.

Authorities are hoping to build a more sturdy road to the crash site – both to ease access for forensic experts and for families who want to see where their loved ones perished.

A bulldozer and several specialized machines were already working away at the site to bolster the road access.

The director of operations at Germanwings, Oliver Wagner, told reporters that 325 grieving relatives had so far made the trip to the village of Seyne-les-Alpes, close to the crash site.

"The majority has been German and Spanish families but we've also had people from Mexico, Japan, Colombia, Venezuela or Argentina," he said.

Wagner said Germanwings and parent company Lufthansa had 90 people on the ground to care for the families, including around a dozen psychological counsellors.

He reiterated that the company had announced it would immediately compensate each family with 50,000 euros ($54,000).

This sum would not be deducted from any final compensation deal, he stressed. – Estelle Peard with Deborah Cole in Berlin, AFP / Rappler.com