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Germanwings Pilot Had Extensive Medical History


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Details are emerging about the copilot who was said to have deliberately crashed a Germanwings plane this week. Authorities say the pilot, Andreas Lubitz, was concealing a mental illness from his employers. But there are still questions about his exact psychological condition and why he chose to kill himself and the 149 other people on board. We're joined now by Matthias Gebauer of Der Spiegel in Berlin. Mr. Gebauer, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Can we say who Andreas Lubitz was? What do we know?

GEBAUER: Well, basically what is happening in these hours actually is that authorities are trying to puzzle together some sort of a profile. There's still no clear answer which is answering the first question everyone is asking - why did he do this? But what we see is a picture which comes together of a very young man who had really the dream to be a pilot but suffered from depression. And for now, it's really speculation, but it seems very much that he, from the beginning, very consciously hid this illness from his employer because he knew that if Germanwings would get any sort of information that he suffered from depression or any other kind of mental illness, they would kick him out of the education, and they would pull away his pilot license.

SIMON: And how do we know he concealed that? Did he conceal it or just not talk about it? What do we know?

GEBAUER: On the one hand, we have the authority saying that they found paperwork from various psychological doctors he consulted. And we also know from the company that he never, you know, informed them about any kind of treatment he had so he took all this treatment very privately. We also talked to a couple of good friends of his who had some thoughts, let's say, that he was a little strange or a little silent. But when they asked him, you know, are you depressive or are you consulting a doctor, he never confessed to anyone. So the picture we've seen in the last couple of days which comes together is really of a person who sort of constructed, like, a double life. One life was - I mean, he was a professional pilot. No one was really doubting his knowledge on the plane. He was a friendly guy. But on the other hand, apparently he had some sort of a secret life where he was, you know, hiding his mental state basically for the reason to still stay up in the air as a pilot.

SIMON: Well, you know, Matthias, we get emails from people when we begin to crack the story in this direction who say, look, there are people who suffer from depression who continue to function professionally at a very high level.

GEBAUER: That's absolutely true, and I would also not condemn people who suffer from depression. It's basically - I think what we have to keep in mind is that, you know, pilots - that is a very special job. They have a very strict responsibility, and they have to be on alert really every minute and every second of the flight because, you know, I mean, they have up to 300 people in their back. And so, I mean, I think that's the reason why flight companies, like Lufthansa, they would always pull away the license from someone who is suffering from depression, even from someone who might have taken medicine against it, which is bringing, like, some danger or at least possible side effects into the game. I think in this very special job, you have to put on, like, a light of security measures to keep passengers safe.

SIMON: Yeah. I gather German airlines have already changed their policies about how many people have to be in the cockpit at all times.

GEBAUER: Yeah. That's a very spontaneous measure I think. I think it's more like to calm the public a little bit, but it's not really giving, like, a stronger sense of security from my point of view because the problem is still - I mean, you put, like, a flight attendant instead of the second pilot into the cockpit, but someone like this could also not hinder the captain from, for example, bringing the plane down. But it's still - let's say it's a light control mechanism. Also, not to give any pilot the situation which Andreas Lubitz was in where he was able to, you know, completely lock out everyone else from the cockpit, be alone and then start this very deadly descent we have seen.

SIMON: Matthias Gebauer, who is chief correspondent for Der Spiegel, the German newspaper. Thanks very much for speaking with us.

GEBAUER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.