The co-pilot was named as 28-year-old Andreas Lubitz, who had joined Germanwings last year.
Brice Robin, the Marseille public prosecutor, told a press conference that the first officer had locked the captain out of the cockpit and set the controls of the Airbus A320 for a rapid descent and the eventual crash into the French Alps.
Immediately beforehand, conversation between the two pilots was normal, said M Robin. He revealed chilling evidence from the cockpit voice recorder about what the co-pilot did next: “He voluntarily allowed the aircraft to lose altitude. He had no reason to do this. He had no reason to stop the captain coming back into the cockpit.”
The prosecutor said the co-pilot was breathing normally throughout the eight-minute descent. But he neither spoke nor responded in any way to alarms within the aircraft and from the ground. He outlined the sequence of events from the moment the captain asked the co-pilot to take over while he went to the toilet.
“The co-pilot at that moment alone uses the flight management system that starts the descent of the aircraft. This action can only be done voluntarily.” He ruled out the possibilities that anyone else was in the cockpit, and that the co-pilot had collapsed and inadvertently triggered a descent.
“We hear several cries of the pilot asking for access through the intercom system. But there’s no answer from the co-pilot.”
Until the events of 11 September 2001, most passenger aircraft had a flimsy door between the cockpit and the cabin. The 9/11 terrorists, armed with blades that they had taken through security, were able easily to access the flight deck and kill the pilots to take control.
Search and rescue personnel at the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus A320 in the French Alps
After the terrorist attacks, airlines began to install reinforced doors, designed to be intruder-proof and bullet-proof. A key-code system is designed to allow cabin crew to gain entry in the event that the pilots are incapacitated. But an override switch – effectively a deadlock – can be engaged on the flight deck. When activated, the door cannot be opened from the outside for a pre-set length of time between five and 20 minutes.
He outlined the steps taken to try to communicate with the doomed plane:
“The tower asks them to do a distress signal but still there is no response. The control tower then asks other aeroplanes to try to contact this Airbus. No answer is forthcoming. There are alarm systems that indicate proximity to the ground.”
“We hear noises of someone trying to break into the cockpit. Just before the final impact we hear the sound of a first impact.”
Pupils gather at the Joseph-Koenig-Gymnasium high school to pay tribute to 16 students and two teachers from the school who were on Germanwings flight 4U9525
M Robin ruled out terrorism as a possible motive, saying “At this stage nothing indicates a terrorist attack.”
He said that the victims would have been aware of their fate “Only in the last moments” before the crash. “We only hear screams in the very end, in the last moments of the flight. Death was instant. It hit the mountain at 700km/h.”Earlier today The Independent asked Germanwings about its policy on flight-door access, and was told: “It is far too early to draw conclusions about adjusting existing processes and proceedings. We will make such an examination in any case as soon as we have confirmed facts available.”