There is a dramatic new development in the investigation into the crash of the Germanwings passenger jet in the French Alps.
The focus of the investigation has now turned on the co-pilot, a young German man who began as an airline steward and then trained to become a pilot. He was aged just 28.
“Deliberate attempt to destroy the aircraft”
The Marseille Prosecutor says information from the cockpit flight recorder appears to show that the co-pilot deliberately crashed the aircraft, killing all 150 passengers and crew.
The co-pilot has been named as Andreas Lubitz, who joined the airline directly after a training course. He had just 630 hours of flying experience and joined Germanwings in 2013.
By comparison, the pilot of the ill-fated flight had more than 6,000 hours of flying time and had been with the airline for more than 10 years.
The Marseille Prosecutor, Brice Robin, said Lubitz was left alone in the cockpit when the captain left to go to the toilet shortly after hitting the correct cruising altitude.
The co-pilot then refused to reopen the door when the captain knocked and the plane was deliberately put into a steady descent.
The prosecutor says it appears Lubitz wanted to “destroy” the aircraft.
Screams from passengers heard on tape
The co-pilot was known to be breathing normally right up until the impact.
Robin said the change to a gradual descent would have to be intentional and there was no reason for the co-pilot not to open the door or respond to air traffic controllers.
The sound of the captain attempting to smash the door down, as well as screaming from passengers, are reportedly heard on the cockpit flight recorder.
Robin says the passengers would not have been aware of what was going on until just before the impact.
However, it seems likely that many will have witnessed the captain’s desperate attempts to break down the door and his pleas for the co-pilot to let him in.
We are shaken by the upsetting statements of the French authorities. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families… 1/2— Lufthansa (@lufthansa) March 26, 2015
French prosecutor Robin said Lubitz was not known as a terrorist and there was nothing to suggest the incident was a terrorist act.
The German interior minister has also said there is no evidence that Lubitz had any links to terrorism.
A German state prosecutor had earlier said only one of the pilots was in the cockpit at the time of the crash.
The New York TImes had also reported on Wednesday that one of the pilots had been locked out of the cockpit.
German citizen Lubitz was included in a “prestigious” aviation database in September 2013 for “meeting or exceeding high educational, licensing and medical standards”.
Difficult recovery operation could take weeks
The recovery of victims’ remains and debris from the aircraft is expected to take weeks.
The area is difficult to access and the impact of the crash means the plane has been shattered into small pieces.
The jet crashed in the French Alps while enroute from Barcelona to Dusseldorf with 144 passengers and six crew.
The plane came down in rugged mountainous terrain about 10 kilometres from the village of Seynes-les-Alpes. A search and recovery operation has been set up there.
On Wednesday the leaders of France, Germany and Spain visited the scene of the tragedy.
Most of the passengers were German and Spanish.
Asked if crash was suicide: "When a man is responsible for 150 lives, its more than suicide" says Lufthansa CEO http://t.co/71r5huwqkl— Mashable (@mashable) March 26, 2015
Lufthansa chief 'stunned' by prosecutor's conclusion that co-pilot of a Germanwings plane intentionally caused crash: http://t.co/zjRKadBBwZ— The Associated Press (@AP) March 26, 2015
BREAKING: Lufthansa CEO says all pilots undergo annual medical checks, but not special psych assessments beyond training. #Germanwings— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) March 26, 2015