German Wings 4U9525: Could Andreas Lubitz even be innocent?

I wrote a few days ago that though the guilt of Andreas Lubitz was being taken as proved beyond all reasonable doubt, I felt that even if it was so, the French prosecutor was rushing a little too fast to judgement. I wrote then:

Maybe there are no other alternatives and all the conclusions being reached are perfectly justified. Maybe the sounds of his breathing which are being used to state that he was fully conscious and breathing normally are absolutely conclusive. Maybe there was no possibility that he could have been incapacitated and still have that breathing pattern. Maybe his 5 month break from his training for what a friend has called “depression and burn-out” is conclusive proof – as the media seem to assume – that he was mentally disturbed.

Maybe.

I am far from any kind of expert on airplanes and on the black boxes and what they can and can’t reveal, but my discomfort with the rush to judgement is apparently shared by some who are experts:

Helsingborgs Dagblad:

The German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz has been painted as being solely responsible for the plane crash in the French Alps. But now some voices claim that it is too early to rule out technical problems.  “It is too early to judge anyone” says flight safety expert Hans Kjäll.

Investigations are continuing in the French Alps where 150 people died in plane crash a week ago. The German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is suspected of deliberately crashing the plane and, among other things,  it has been revealed that he had been treated for suicidal tendencies and suffered from a psychosomatic illness.

Meanwhile, only one of the two so-called black boxes has been found, which means that it can not be completely ruled out that some technical fault on the plane may have been significant.

“Currently no hypothesis about a technical fault can be entirely ruled out”, admits one of the French prosecutors to EKOT. According to Hans Kjäll it is only when the second black box is found that the plane’s flight data can provide the answers as to exactly when the disaster occurred and what data was input by the co-pilot can be determined.

“It is argued that 100 feet was set as the minimum height, but then that would mean flying below the ground surface. But how do we know?” Another possible reason for the crash is that there was a lack of oxygen in the cabin and that was why Lubitz began a descent. “He could have suffered from a lack of oxygen and passed out” says Hans Kjäll.

That the first pilot was not allowed into the cockpit may then have a natural explanation and then Lubitz can not be held responsible for the crash. “The first pilot may actually have left the cockpit to get an extra oxygen mask or oxygen bottle and then found the door locked” says Kjäll.

He believes that the scenario of how the co-pilot has been convicted before the completion of the investigation is similar to that with the missing Malaysian plane MH370, where the captain was very early on blamed for the incident. But later reports then showed no evidence that the pilot did anything intentionally.

Kjäll believes that Swedish prosecutors would have been more cautious in their statements than the French after the air disaster in the Alps.

“They probably should not have gone out so early with details. The Accident Investigation Commission probably would not have said anything at all before finding the flight data recorder”, he says.

Maybe Andreas Lubitz is as guilty as everyone seems to believe. But he has not received his due process before he has been indicted and his guilt has been proclaimed as a settled fact. I understand that French prosecutors are not just investigators and prosecutors but also judges to some extent. Brice Robin, the French prosecutor (full transcript here) may be entirely right in his assessment of Lubitz’s guilt, but I still feel his press conference was not merely to allege guilt as a prosecutor but to pronounce guilt as a judge – and in that he went too fast, too far.

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