The question as to why Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot of Germanwings flight 9525 would intentionally bring about the crash of the plane is at the source of much of the perplexity surrounding the Germanwings tragedy. Even if we suppose that Lubitz was suicidal, it is obviously one thing to commit suicide and another to do so in such a way as to cause the death of 149 other people as well. This perplexity undoubtedly fueled the unfounded rumors that Lubitz was Muslim, since if the co-pilot was an Islamic radical conducting a suicide operation, then the mystery would be resolved.
But there is also another way of resolving the mystery: maybe Lubitz did not intentionally crash the plane. When, barely 48 hours after the crash, French prosecutor Brice Robin first floated the scenario of an intentional act, he took pains to emphasize that this was only an “interpretation” of the then known facts.
Far from heeding the prosecutor’s warning, the international media has quickly transformed that interpretation into itself established fact. But French investigators themselves clearly do not regard it as such.
Thus, on Saturday, investigator Jean-Pierre Michel told France’s BFM news television that, while the theory that Lubitz crashed the plane for personal reasons represented a “serious lead,” “other hypotheses” could not be excluded, “including that of a mechanical failure.” Elaborating on the current state of the investigation to the French news agency AFP, Michel said that he had yet to be presented with any particular element that could explain Lubitz’s action, if he was indeed responsible for the crash. He emphasized, furthermore, the importance of the plane’s second “black box” to elucidating the final minutes of the flight from a technical point of view. The now famous cockpit recording, which demonstrates Lubitz’s unresponsiveness to appeals from the pilot and air traffic control, was contained in the first “black box.” The second “black box,” however, has yet to be recovered.
Another hypothesis that investigators will presumably have to pursue is the possibility that Lubitz was unconscious or catatonic. At his March 26 press conference, French prosecutor Robin said that the only sound that one hears from within the cockpit during the final minutes of the flight is the sound of Lubitz “breathing normally” and that one hears his breathing right up until the moment of impact. Robin cited this normal breathing as evidence that Lubitz (a) was alive and (b) had not suffered a heart attack. But it is obviously not per se evidence that he was conscious. It should be noted that at the time Robin knew nothing about Lubitz’s medical history or his use of anti-depressants or other drugs.