Thursday, 26 March 2015

Germanwings Plane Crash - The Facts and Questions Remaining

I've been reading about this story almost obsessively since the news broke. It's just so tragic and awful, and you can't help but put yourself in the victims' position. What if you were in that plane as it went down with your friends or family? 

Close-ups of debris

On the Sky News site there's pictures and names of some of the victims on board and it's heart breaking to know that they had to go through this through no choice of their own. Just from this sample of the 144 passengers and 6 flight attendants, there were two babies on board, two opera singers (husband and wife) after a performance in Spain, a mother and son celebrating his new job, a young female student, a 50 year old father who is leaving behind two children and a wife, a male English student from Hull, sixteen exchange students from the same school (so friends), a married man...

144 people is just unbelievable. I remember reading about this on Reddit and someone had looked at the flight path and descent and had said it was unnatural - in speed and the time taken - for it to go down the way it had. No distress call was sent from the plane. But it was still assumed at that time to be an accident. 

Now we know the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, a twenty eight year old man who had only come out of training in 2013, intentionally crashed the plane. Recordings from the plane crashing indicate he was breathing and therefore conscious, but not only that but breathing calmly. He waited until the pilot left (presumably for a toilet break) and sent the plane in a downwards trajectory he knew would end in the death of all on board. He had to crash in a certain way to not trigger the plane's automatic systems that would have kicked in if the plane was descending too fast - eg. a hijack attempt. There are regulations in place that state there have to be two people in the cockpit but the pilot did not get a flight attendant to sit in the cockpit while he went. Why? Is it so commonplace for that regulation to be broken that no one bothers with it anymore? Were the flight attendants busy? We probably won't ever know for sure.

Then from the recordings we know the pilot tried to break back into the cockpit after realising he had purposefully been locked out. He would have known the plane was going down, and he would have also known that because of the post-9/11 regulations the door has to be sturdy enough to be grenade proof along with several other security procedures that all work on the basis that the two people in the cockpit are not the ones that are doing the hijacking. There is an outside unlocking system that, for security reasons, not much is known about. It is said to take five minutes for the unlocking system to work so the pilot could have re-entered but one Redditor estimated that in the eight minutes it took to descend - two minutes to go to the toilet and return, one minute for the realisation something wasn't right to set in, five minutes for the door to unlock - it would have already been too late to do anything about the crash. 

Apparently the passengers started screaming only in the last few moments, so they didn't know until then that the plane was crashing, but I don't understand how that is true. I wish it was, but when the pilot has been locked out and is desperately trying to get in the cockpit in front of all the passengers to stop the plane from crashing into to Alps, along with the fact - through the windows and that horrible sea-sickness feeling you get - the passengers can see and feel the plane going down too fast, I think they must have known well before that. 

What confuses and sickens me the most is Lubitz. He sat in the cockpit and locked the pilot out, and carefully drove the plane into the ground so automatic systems wouldn't work and even in the final few moments his breathing was calm. We know that much. But if you think about it, he was sat in a position with front facing windows. He had the prime viewing of the mountains getting closer and closer, and his breathing remained calm. In his last few moments alive, knowing his voice was being recorded, he never apologised, told anyone he loved them, said goodbye, revealed his motivation, anything. He knew that with his death he was leaving behind hundreds of friends and families, and the whole world at large, so many questions to deal with, as well as the implications this crash now has.

All aviation companies now have a dilemma to face. When 9/11 happened new security measures were taken to protect the cockpit and make it impenetrable to outsiders attempting to hijack the plane. Now this has happened, there's going to have to be a choice who is trusted more to not deliberately bring a plane down - the pilots or the passengers. One Redditor stated that, with this incident included, ten planes have been intentionally crashed because of pilots, but just four because of passenger hijackers. This statistic would imply pilots are more likely to be a danger, but there will have to be a balance struck to get the optimum security procedures in place. Regulations will have to stop being ignored through complacency. Psychological checks will have to be regularly taken. There are many ways to prevent something like this happening again, but the main issue standing in the way of that will be money. 

Hopefully when further investigations take place regarding Lubitz's background we will have an idea of his intentions. Was it terrorism? Was it a suicide that also implicated 150 people? Was it a psychotic break? We might never know. But for the families' sakes, I hope we get some clarity soon about why so many people had to die. RIP to all of the victims on board that plane.

The Reddit thread regarding the crash.

The BBC News article regarding the crash.