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Flight 9525: a suicidal act?

This blog post was written hours before it was revealed that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz appeared to want to 'destroy the plane': prosecutor, and is therefore obsolete (but my basic guess about the "suicidal act" was right)

My half-sister has been afraid of flying for many years. For two days, there is some evidence that she had a point.

The crash of Germanwings 9525 occurred 100 kilometers Northwest of Nice, and she's been living in Nice for many years. And yes, she has flown with Germanwings – a subsidiary of Lufthansa – in the past.




An audio recording told us that one of the pilots was locked out – probably when he needed to use the restroom. The other pilot didn't allow him to return to the cockpit when the Airbus was converging towards the rocks in the Alps.

Before 9/11, the door of the cockpit was pretty much open to everyone who gets physically close. After 9/11, the cockpits began to be "protected" against intruders. Unfortunately, the tragedy of Germanwings 9525 indicates that this "improvement of safety" has actually made things worse, not better.




Now, the main remaining question is why the remaining pilot in the cockpit didn't do his job, and why he didn't allow the other pilot to get in.

There are two obvious major hypotheses or classes of hypotheses:

  1. This pilot suffered from a health problem, and was either unconscious or sleeping at the time
  2. He was conscious and awake and he led the airplane towards the doom intentionally
The second class of hypotheses – the kamikaze pilot – also includes the hypotheses that the remaining pilot was a Muslim terrorist. (This is more or less excluded once the German names are known, see the comments.) We haven't been told the names of the pilots yet; I am actually surprised that it's impossible to find the names out. The investigators surely know the names. The very fact that these basic data are being hidden increases the probability that there is something "suspicious" about (one of) the names, I think. (Excluded 2 minutes after I was writing the previous sentence, see the comments.)

The captain had the "pretty much minimal" number of hours on service that are compatible with the title; the other pilot was a new 2013 alumnus with a very small number of hours.

There are various reasons why I tend to think that the kamikaze explanation could be more likely. First, we rarely see or hear that pilots collapse or become unconscious during the flight. The probability that this event occurs exactly when the other pilot is in the restroom – which is perhaps 1% of the time – is therefore smaller by 2 additional orders of magnitude.

Second, we remember three airplanes on 9/11 that were liquidated (along with some terrestrial targets) by suicidal attackers on the board. Of course, on 9/11, the executioners were not pilots. I don't know whether it's possible for a Germanwings pilot to be a Muslim – and a hidden Muslim terrorist – but due to multi-culti and PC, I do tend to think that the answer is Yes.

After all, there were Turkish (and probably Muslim) passengers among the victims, too. (This is not relevant for this event; the pilots were ethnic Germans, see the comments.)

Believe me, I don't want to make the lives of the Muslims less fulfilling or prestigious and I have nothing against them as human beings. But due to similar threats that are vastly greater if the pilots are Muslims, I simply think that the Western airlines should not hire Muslims as pilots. In Czech, we use the idiom "to make the billy goat a gardener". If you don't understand, it is supposed to be "obviously silly" to do such things because the billy goat is more likely to eat, and not nurture, the plants. To make the Muslim a pilot could be a similar thing, although this idiom isn't widespread yet.

The fact that the locked cockpit was a necessary condition for the disaster to take place – at least in this way – should also teach us a lesson. Way too often, people want to "improve the safety" by introducing some policies that make things more complicated, harder, slower, more annoying, or more costly and they assume that it's self-evident that the safety must be improved if we suffer through this extra layer or inconvenience and regulation. This assumption is a modern "regulatory" counterpart of the old idea that scapegoats donated to gods (divine bribes of a sort) will make our lives better in the future.

However, it is simply not the case in general – and both the old religions and the universally pro-regulation, left-wing ideologies are lethally flawed for the same reason. Regulation may make things worse. It may create extra discomfort and it may reduce the safety, too. If the cockpit is locked, this cockpit is more protected against the bad guys. But you know, it is more "protected" against the good guys, too. The latter fact is often overlooked – even though the number of "good guys" who sometimes need to enter the cockpit is arguably greater than the number of "bad guys"!

Couldn't the pilots be able to open the cockpit with a password or some secret motion?

So I am not claiming that there's solid evidence that the tragedy was a murder-suicide, or even a suicidal Islamic attack, but I think it is clearly premature to eliminate this possibility or possibilities.

My condolences to the victims' friends and families.

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reader Tom Weidig said...

Both are Germans. A friend of mine knows one of the pilot and describes him as experience and very outgoing. not the silent suicidal guy.

Was wissen wir über die Piloten?

Beide Piloten des Unglücksfliegers waren Deutsche. Der Flugkapitän der Unglücksmaschine war nach früheren Angaben von Germanwings ein sehr erfahrener Pilot. Nach BILD-Informationen heißt der Mann Patrick S.
Er ist Vater von zwei Kindern. Der Mann flog seit über zehn Jahren für Lufthansa und Germanwings und hatte auf dem A320 mehr als 6000 Flugstunden absolviert.

Beim Radio-Sender „Europe1“ bestätigte dies ein ehemaliger Kollege des Flugkapitäns, er sei ein „sehr erfahrener Pilot gewesen. Er war einer der besten.“ Der inzwischen pensionierte Kollege weiter: „Ich bin mir hundertprozentig sicher, dass sie (Pilot und Co-Pilot, d.Red.) taten, was sie konnten.“
Er sei ein sehr guter Vater gewesen, beschreibt der ehemalige Kollege den Piloten weiter, „ein guter Mensch mit Humor.“

Wie eine Sprecherin der Lufthansa bestätigt, war der Co-Pilot der in Frankreich abgestürzten Germanwings-Maschine seit September 2013 für die Fluggesellschaft tätig. Der Mann habe 630 Flugstunden absolviert, arbeitete zuvor an der Verkehrsfliegerschule der Lufthansa. Der junge Mann aus Montabaur (Rheinland-Pfalz), der nach BILD-Informationen Andreas L. heißt, wurde in Bremen zum Piloten ausgebildet.


reader Tom Weidig said...

Both are German. A friend of mind knows one of them and describes him as experienced and outgoing/funny and not suicidal.

Was wissen wir über die Piloten?

Beide Piloten des Unglücksfliegers waren Deutsche. Der Flugkapitän der Unglücksmaschine war nach früheren Angaben von Germanwings ein sehr erfahrener Pilot. Nach BILD-Informationen heißt der Mann Patrick S.

Er ist Vater von zwei Kindern. Der Mann flog seit über zehn Jahren für Lufthansa und Germanwings und hatte auf dem A320 mehr als 6000 Flugstunden absolviert.

Beim Radio-Sender „Europe1“ bestätigte dies ein ehemaliger Kollege des Flugkapitäns, er sei ein „sehr erfahrener Pilot gewesen. Er war einer der besten.“ Der inzwischen pensionierte Kollege weiter: „Ich bin mir hundertprozentig sicher, dass sie (Pilot und Co-Pilot, d.Red.) taten, was sie konnten.“

Er sei ein sehr guter Vater gewesen, beschreibt der ehemalige Kollege den Piloten weiter, „ein guter Mensch mit Humor.“


Wie eine Sprecherin der Lufthansa bestätigt, war der Co-Pilot der in Frankreich abgestürzten Germanwings-Maschine seit September 2013 für die Fluggesellschaft tätig. Der Mann habe 630 Flugstunden absolviert, arbeitete zuvor an der Verkehrsfliegerschule der Lufthansa. Der junge Mann aus Montabaur (Rheinland-Pfalz), der nach BILD-Informationen Andreas L. heißt, wurde in Bremen zum Piloten ausgebildet.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Danke, interesting.


reader R T Deco said...

Why fly the plane into a mountain in a remote area? Why not turn south and fly it into Marseilles or north and fly it into Geneva? Why commit suicide in the name of Allah without, at least, broadcasting "Allahu Akbar" over the radio?


reader Tom Weidig said...

Le Monde retrieved the statement that the co-pilot was locked out. It also makes more sense that the pilot was locked out, also because I believe that's the person that my friend, also a Lufthansa pilot, knows.


reader R T Deco said...

News sources are reporting that Patrick was locked out. Andreas was alone in the cockpit.


reader davideisenstadt said...

lubos:
el al dealt with this problem by eliminating the door from the passenger compartment to the cockpit. there is a bulkhead, and there is no way to get into the cockpit from the cabin.
the pilots have a bathroom, and dont need to exit the cockpit during flight. generations of dealing with islamic people have informed el al.


reader Rehbock said...

Too soo to draw conclusions. The reports are coming from a french prosecutor so - sorry Shannon - I don't trust the accuracy.
Of course those doors were a bad idea like most everything about security. Apparently they cannot be opened from outside. I don't know why then they would conclude that a non-responding co-pilot was conscious.


reader br said...

I still can't believe my eyes, but there are a surprising number of internet 'serious discussions' connecting the crash to CERN. I will spare your site by not posting any links... yeuch!


reader Wizard said...

It requires consciousness to disengage autopilot and crash the plane, and also they could hear his breathing in the blackbox recorder...

there's no comment by shannon yet so who are you talking about? lol


reader HenryBowman419 said...

It is entirely possible that, though whoever remained in the cockpit was an ethnic German, he had converted to Islam. All speculation, of course.


The cockpit door has to be deliberately locked from the inside; it evidently does not automatically lock when closed. The person remaining in the cockpits had to manually put the aircraft into a descent, so it seems very unlikely that he was unconscious.


It's a helluva way to kill oneself, considering the 149 others on board. Likely more to this, though possible we'll never know.


reader QsaTheory said...

Lubos, The Muslim countries airlines are mostly manned by Muslims. They fly over European territories all the time , European(and American) airlines are all over Islamic territories, so any Muslim with basic flying training can ramp into them(I myself have 10 hours of flying, some of my relatives are pilots.


If you advocate that Muslim countries should not fly their airplane over European territories, the Muslim countries will retaliate with the same virtually cutting you of from many countries in Africa and Asia. And you will have at least 20% of Europeans picketing your house because they lost their jobs because of loss of business with Islamic countries.


reader LdB said...

Ah conspiracy theory so much more attractive than the usual mundane truth that the pilot simply locked the door, and suffered a heart attack. In 2013 United Airlines pilot Henry Skillern fell unconscious and later died it was fortunate his co-pilot was in the cockpit at the time with the locking of doors this is a definite risk that probably has never been assessed.


reader OON said...

During the Helios Airways flight 522 both pilots became unconscious due to the decompression they failed to recognize. Everybody on board soon became unconscious too because oxygen ran away. There were however portable oxygen tanks that one flight attendant definitely used. However the door to the cockpit had a code door and it seems that the code was known only to a senior flight attendant who most probably also was disabled. When that guy managed to somehow find out the code it was too late - the plane simply ran out of fuel.

On the one hand this story demonstrates that sometimes there is a need for real connection between cabin and cockpit. But it also gives me uneducated wild guess (oh yeah, we all love to do that!=)), that if the cockpit security was organized similarly some extra actions were required to lock a door in such a way that the pilot could not enter.


reader OON said...

Yeah, something like that. "Lufthansa said that its cockpit doors can be
opened from the outside with a code, in line with regulations introduced
after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. However, the
code system can be blocked from inside the cockpit, according to an
Airbus promotional video posted online and confirmed by the planemaker."


reader dreamfeed said...

Maybe the situation is different in Europe, but here in the US 50% (1/2) of major terrorist attacks have been perpetrated by white christians (timothy mcveigh). If you include minor events such as the fort hood shooting, the Unibomber, etc then the overwhelming majority had nothing to do with Islam (as you might expect given their share of the population).


Of course 1/2 is not exactly a statistically significant result but I guess that's kind of my point: Islamic terrorism (like terrorism in general) is simply not something worth worrying about.


I should say, if you are counting bodies than 9/11 was far worse than all the rest combined but I think the relevant number is not the number of bodies but the number of incidents, and by this metric Islam doesn't look so bad.


reader Eclectikus said...

All about Airbus reinforced cockpit door:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZH1oi_IVKm0


reader Uncle Al said...

The cockpit door was digitally keyed. Authorized external entry could be actively blocked by internal personnel (safety feature). The plane hit hard enough to shred both "black boxes" that are specifically armored against that. The entire valley is blackened - the plane was fully tanked.

All pilots must be mullah-certified Muslim fanatics. They will then prove that Islam is a religion of love and submission that would not hurt a fly. General Buck Turgidson, "Well, I, uh, don't think it's quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up, sir." Dr. Strangelove (1964) The "single slip-up" sent 1400 megatons to bomb the USSR.


reader Gordon said...

Why would anyone want to fly to a muslim country?


reader Ann said...

My deep condolences to all the families who lost loved ones. A terrible blow for Lufthansa. I just read now that the breathing of the co-pilot was heard right up to the crash, normal, not like a geart attack situation. The other item was that at take-off the senior pilot was describing the landing strategy for Dusseldorf and the co-pilot made only terse responses, he did not engage in a fuller discussion, which was being reported as unusual. He looks like a smiling German guy, not a terrorist. Wonder what demons lurked in his own life? If you just want to die, why take so many others with gou? It's sickening and sad.


reader Gordon said...

Well yes they can... the captain has a security code that opens it unless that is over ridden from inside the cockpit by the co-pilot,


reader QsaTheory said...

Gordon, I know you live near the north pole, but a lot of things happening elsewhere.


reader Mike said...

'There are various reasons why I tend to think that the kamikaze
explanation could be more likely. First, we rarely see or hear that
pilots collapse or become unconscious during the flight. The probability
that this event occurs exactly when the other pilot is in the restroom –
which is perhaps 1% of the time – is therefore smaller by 2 additional
orders of magnitude.'

Add this low probability the additional improbability of the pilot not only falling unconscious or ill while the pilot is out of the cockpit but also falling unconscious or ill in such a way as to knock into the right buttons and levers to activate a descent. The crash was intentional.



(1) Enlarge cockpit so that it includes a toilet.


(2) Or, as you hint at, give both pilots different, private codes to unlock the cockpit - thereby making either of their attempts to take down plane less possible (since the other pilot can stop the rebelling one) and less likely (since in the case of the two private codes, both pilots would have to be in on the plan, which is less probable than merely one pilot being in on the plan).


(3) Perform thorough psychological evaluations on all pilots once a month, with short (10-minute) evaluations before every flight. Yes, before every flight.


reader QsaTheory said...

I think it is better to take them to a seminar on the psychology of serial killers.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_serial_killers_in_the_United_States


reader Eclectikus said...

(4) Hire a third pilot so that never one pilot left alone on cockpit.


reader OON said...

There is a good rule discussed a lot now (like US companies have it, but not Eureopean) - always two people in the cockpit. If one of pilots leaves, senior flight attendant should go inside. Probably choosing senior flight attendands with equal brute strength to the average pilots... Damn, and I love those ladies-stewardesses!


reader Rehbock said...

Or admit that the solution was worse than the problem and get rid of the post 9/11 insecurity circus. If we had spent more on screening pilots perhaps this wouldn't happen.
If we never had decided to lock out even pilots we would not have this.


reader Rehbock said...

The new information allows conclusions. First - yes he was probably conscious. Second, the security system on the door was the weapon used to kill everyone. They apparently didn't consider that a pilot might become incapacitated just after pushing the lock button? They didn't consdier that pilots can be a threat too or that someone besides a pilot could succeed to barge in when door opened and lock out the crew ?


reader Nailtrail said...

When the door is locked, the rest of the crew can use the code override. This can be blocked from the cabin with a button, for example if the crew is forced to reveal the code. This button must be held down, otherwise the door will unlock after 5 minutes. This button also cannot be pushed by an unconscious pilot as it's designed against accidental lean ons and pushes.


reader Mike said...

Meh, I think airplanes and airports need more security, not less - the problem is that the security that is added is often not wise security; this needn't, of course, be so. It can be very wise and sophisticated. But I agree that pilots should be intensely screened; in the future, perhaps even FMRIs should come into play.


reader Eclectikus said...

But then, surely, there had been more 9/11 worldwide... Well, actually I fear that there is no definitive recipe against black swans, there will always be some kind of accidents, and causes could be human, mechanical, logistics, or a mixture of these factors.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Tom, do you agree that the "results of the French investigation" refute pretty much everything you wrote?


reader dreamfeed said...

So it turns out it was a kamikaze German.


Serious question, Lubos: I am sure that this type of behavior correlates at least as strongly with being a man as it does with being a Muslim (I am aware that there have been female suicide bombers, but they are definitely a minority). Would you advocate requiring that all pilots are female?


reader Tom Weidig said...

Don't understand.

I wrote "A friend of mind knows one of them and describes him as experienced and outgoing/funny and not suicidal." That was the captain, and not the co-pilot who was not experienced and not outgoing as now described in the media. My friend was right about his colleague.


reader Tom Weidig said...

Sorry. I think there is a misunderstanding. I should have written "retracted" and not "retrieved". I mixed up both words


reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, I once had to fly into it to accompany my sister - and she flew there because she fell in love with a Muslim lifeguard.


I also know many other people, like Andrejka Bernatova, a blonde Czech undergrad Harvard student - at that time - who flew to the Emirates or where because she had learned Arabic and she was able to convert this and related skills to lots of dollars for doing business with the Arabs.


And so on... there are many reasons why people sometimes want to fly to Muslim countries. ;-)


reader Luboš Motl said...

How did you exactly become "sure" about your correlation?


Of course that if one sex were much safer or would be doing a much better job in piloting, it should be vastly preferred.


Whatever the better sex for piloting is (and yes, I am sure that the men are safer due to their superior 3D skills and similar things) I don't believe you would have enough pilots if you demanded them to be female, however.


reader Luboš Motl said...

OK, clear now. It was unclear who was in the cockpit and who was out - and who was the friend you referred to - because other sources initially reported the opposite location of the two pilots.


I wrote the blog post an hour before a pretty clear final picture was released in the media, and didn't edit it afterwards...


reader dreamfeed said...

I wouldn't say that women are "much safer" than men because in all of history, there have been a statistically insignificant number of incidents where the pilot deliberately crashed the plane. But by the same token I wouldn't say that non-muslims are much safer than muslims.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Well, there have been studies asking exactly this question, e.g.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93264

that found that

Air crashes involving female pilots are mostly due to mishandling of the plane, while those with male pilots are more often due to flawed decision-making and inattention, a study found.


reader dreamfeed said...

Sorry, I should have clarified that I was only talking about the risk of the pilot deliberately crashing the plane, because that was the basis of your suggestion that western companies shouldn't hire Muslim pilots.


reader Luboš Motl said...

No, you are completely distorting my comments as well as the reality.


The actual rational criterion is the overall risk that something goes wrong, or the expectation value of the losses, summed over all possible mechanisms and reasons why it goes wrong.


But of course that 1) the inability to handle and 2) the intentional suicidal decisions are two major reasons why something may go wrong, and for various special groups, they may become absolutely overwhelming and de facto disqualify a whole group from being sensible for the job.


reader Mikael said...

Dear Lubos,
I think the procedure to lock and unlock the cockpit door are more or less optimal. The outside person can unlock the door by a secret code, but the inside pilote can prevent it. After all in the initial state the pilotes are more trustworthy than the passengers. If the pilote inside falls asleep, there will be no issue as long as the pilote outside remembers the code,. An improvement against forgetting the code and partly against a malicious pilote can be that always two persons have to be in the cockpit.
Applied to the Germanwings flight: I don't quite understand why the scenario "copilote fall asleep and pilote forgot the code" is not considered a viable possibility still. I assume the black box will have recorded what happened to the door so we will get clarity. Even if copilote crashed the plane intenionally, it is not clear, if he was ready to physically fight a stewardess in the cockpit.


reader QsaTheory said...

A cousin of mine wanted to marry a Czech women but his father would not agree, he has a small restaurant in Prague. I am not sure about their relation since his father passed away.


Many people especially from the gulf visit Czech republic for physical therapy and lower cost and some inadvertently will fall in love .


reader The truth hurts said...

Mohammad sucks camel dick.


reader br said...

Many (most?) European airlines also use this rule, but I guess you are right, it should be a regulation not an option.


reader john said...

Muslim countries differ a lot.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_of_sharia_law_by_country



Many "muslim" countries doesn't apply sharia laws. Their civil laws are pretty similar to Europe.


reader Gene Day said...

The plane was “flown” into the mountainside, Mikael. The flight path alone showed that this was not an accident. This was clear even before the wreckage was located.
The plane’s speed was maintained around 450 to 500 mph and this really could not be accidental.
The glide slope provided an equivalent forward thrust of 0.10 G corresponding nearly to cruise thrust. Therefore, I knew that the engines were set at a low power in order to avoid exceeding the plane’s maximum allowed airspeed. It really was “gliding” with its high speed being maintained by gravity alone. I estimated the glide slope as 5 or 6 degrees and this is about as fast as you can descend without overspeeding and destroying the airframe as you get into thick air near sea level.
The young guy at the controls knew he was colliding with a granite mountain. He must have pictured the horrendous impact in his mind.


reader Gene Day said...

I do not want, ever, to fly with a young male at the controls. I did that once, in a Cessna 182. Never again! I am extremely lucky to be alive.
I have said for many years that I want my pilot and my surgeon to have a little gray hair. My life has proved the wisdom of that attitude.
Regarding female pilots, of course a young woman is safer than a young male but I would like her to have a little gray hair as well.
You don’t need a statistical correlation to show that young males are a greater risk than young females (assuming an equivalent skill level). All you need is life experience.


reader Gene Day said...

That is entirely reasonable, Lubos. Men and women do have different skill sets. You don’t need statistics to know that, either.


reader br said...

That's also eerie, as his interest in gliders is well reported. Which makes it sound even more like he knew what he was doing.


reader Mikael said...

The guy started as a glider pilote indeed. Scary.


reader dreamfeed said...

So do you, or don't you, think that Muslims should be barred from being pilots (at least in the west)? The original post was pretty unequivocal.


reader davideisenstadt said...

camel urine. fresh unpasteurized camel pee, thats why.


reader Gordon said...

lol, the climate where I live in Victoria is classed as CSB Koppen---Mediterranean warm--we even can grow certain types of palm trees...


reader Gordon said...

The authorities would not release info on his religion and said that was not relevant...of course it is.


reader Peter F. said...

If an airport's security staff got twice as numerous, then, if all other things staying the same, the chance of a terrorism attack from a rogue staffer doubles. ;-)


reader Peter F. said...

Excellent response-sparking question! :-)


reader Tony said...

Warning: crude, socially insensitive and non-PC. Hopefully we are not witnessing a birth of another crazy paradigm - how German crazies prefer to die: no display of emotion, no 'bubbaduba is great' shouting, no american-style 'fuck you all, assholes' final statement, just a quiet drive into the oblivion.


reader mesocyclone said...

Timothy McVeigh was not a Christian.


reader Rehbock said...

Catholic but not a good one :-)


reader Luboš Motl said...

I do think so. I think that my post was unequivocal.


In the comments, I complained that you totally distorted the logic behind this view of mine.


reader Luboš Motl said...

And if you fly with an old pilot, Gene, aren't you afraid that he is more likely to decide that he has had a nice life already and dies during the flight? A mundane stroke or something like that?


reader QsaTheory said...

I lived in Seattle for over a year. but you know what I meant.


reader davideisenstadt said...

tasty camel pee.


reader Shannon said...

This guy was left alone and realised he had the life of 150 people in his hands: he suddenly felt powerful like hell. I am sure that some people must have perceived this tendency of his to be megalomaniac.


reader QsaTheory said...

I take your word for it troll.


reader davideisenstadt said...

here: to help you in your research...

http://www.inquisitr.com/1248259/mers-virus-symptoms-being-spread-by-muslims-drinking-camel-urine/