Plane passengers’ final minutes of terror

2015-03-27 00:00

IT must have been a terribly traumatic eight minutes for the passengers of the Germanwings Airbus that was crashed in the Alps on Tuesday.

So said Rennie van Zyl, one of South Africa’s leading air accident investigators, after French prosecutors said the plane’s co-pilot appears to have deliberately crashed it after locking the pilot out of the cockpit. The final dive took eight minutes.

Screams and hammering on the cockpit door can be heard on the voice recorder. Also heard is the calm breathing of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz (28), who was at the controls.

Marseilles prosecutor Brice Robin said the only reasonable explanation is that Lubitz pushed a button that sent the plane into a fatal dive and then accelerated. Terror has been ruled out as a motive, Robin said, but it could not really be termed a suicide.

Van Zyl said some passengers would have been able to see the pilot hammering on the cockpit door trying to get back in. There is a button inside the cockpit that overrides the key code that unlocks the door from the outside. That is supposed to keep attackers out of the cockpit, but Van Zyl said airlines would have to consider protecting passengers against rogue pilots, as well as pilots against terrorists.

Cockpit doors were secured inthe wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in which terrorists took over several airliners and crashed them.

Van Zyl said there had been at least one other deliberate “suicide” crash within the last two years.

That was when a pilot for the LAM airline in Mozambique flew a plane into the ground in Namibia. The investigation found that the pilot had been widely known to have serious emotional problems. Nevertheless, he was allowed to keep flying.

Van Zyl said the crash would have devastating consequences for German carrier Lufthansa, the parent of Germanwings, because passengers’ relatives would be likely to launch huge civil claims.

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