Andreas Lubitz, the pilot who flew a Germanwings jetliner into the French Alps on Tuesday, had been given a mental health diagnosis but kept the condition hidden from his employer, the authorities said Friday.
A psychiatric diagnosis might explain why Lubitz, a 27-year-old German, did not disclose his full medical record to Germanwings and its parent company, Lufthansa. Certain diagnoses are grounds for a pilot’s license to be revoked.
Prosecutors said Friday that among the items found at Lubitz’s home were several doctors’ notes stating that he was too ill to work, including on the day of the crash; one of the notes had been torn up. These documents “support the preliminary assessment that the deceased hid his illness from his employer and colleagues,” the prosecutors said in a statement.
But there remained considerable confusion about the precise nature and severity of his psychiatric condition. A German hospital said it had evaluated Lubitz twice in the past two months but added that he had not been there for assessment or treatment of depression.
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The crash killed Lubitz and the other 149 people on board the Airbus A320 jetliner bound from Barcelona to DÃ¼sseldorf on Tuesday morning.
The German investigators said they had not found a suicide note or “any indication of a political or religious” nature among the documents from Lubitz’s apartment. They also played down the possibility that his actions were the result of a romantic breakup, saying he was in a long-term relationship at the time of the crash.
“However, documents were secured containing medical information that indicates an illness and corresponding treatment by doctors,” Ralf Herrenbräck, a spokesman for prosecutors in Düsseldorf, said in a statement.
The Federal Aviation Office of Germany said on Friday that a medical certificate issued to Lubitz that allowed him to fly noted that he had a medical condition, although it did not specify whether it was related to a psychological issue.
The absentee notes found in Lubitz’s apartment were from different doctors, suggesting that he may have sought a second opinion for a recent diagnosis.
The Düsseldorf University Hospital said in a statement Friday that Lubitz had been seen in February and a last time on March 10 for what it called a “diagnostic evaluation.” The clinic refused to give further details, citing Germany’s privacy laws for medical records, including those of the dead, but denied reports that the co-pilot had been treated for depression.
The clinic, a research hospital affiliated with Düsseldorf University, said it had handed Lubitz’s medical records over to prosecutors.
Speculation about Lubitz’s mental health had already set off a worldwide discussion among pilots, airlines and officials about how airlines worldwide screen their pilots and document potential physical or mental health issues.
Martin Riecken, a spokesman for the Germanwings parent company, Lufthansa, said Friday that all of its pilots were examined at least once a year by doctors employed by the airline’s own medical services unit, Lufthansa Aeromedical Services, in compliance with European pilot licensing rules. But as is the case with most airlines - including those in the United States - the annual check-up focuses mainly on physical fitness to fly, he said. Questions of psychological fitness are largely addressed with a questionnaire filled out by the pilots themselves and signed on their honor.
“The questions are developed in coordination with the DLR,” Riecken said, referring to Germany’s national aeronautics and space research center. However, he said, the teams of doctors performing the exams do not normally include trained psychologists.
Riecken provided no details about Lubitz, citing German privacy rules.
In Lubitz’s hometown, Montabaur, people who knew him or his parents said that the co-pilot’s girlfriend had swiftly gone with her family to a hotel to escape the news media. The girlfriend was first questioned by investigators.
On Thursday, the French prosecutor leading the investigation said the evidence from the cockpit voice recorder suggested that Lubitz, a former flight attendant with a passion for flying, had locked the pilot out of the cockpit and deliberately set the plane on a descent into the Alps.
The crash claimed victims from more than a dozen countries, including Germany, Spain and the United States.
Police officers and rescue workers on Friday continued to search the site of the crash for victims’ remains, along with other clues and DNA that could help them identify those who died in the crash.
In an interview with the French broadcaster i-Télé, Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France said it was incumbent upon Lufthansa to reveal as much information as possible to help “understand why this pilot got to the point of this horrific action.”
Separately, President Joachim Gauck of Germany attended a memorial service in Haltern am See on Friday for the 16 high school students and two teachers who died in the crash, German news reports said. He was accompanied by the state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft. He was also to meet with friends and families of the victims.
Carsten Spohr, the chief executive of Lufthansa, said on Thursday that Lubitz had passed the company’s health checks with “flying colors.”
“He was 100 percent flightworthy, without any limitations,” Spohr said.
But he said there had been an instance six years ago when Lubitz took a break from his training for several months. He said that if the reason was medical, German rules on privacy prevented the sharing of such information. Spohr said the revelation of Lubitz’s actions had left him stunned.
Some international airlines responded to the crash by introducing new rules requiring that two crew members always be present in the cockpit, after the French prosecutor revealed that Lubitz had locked the plane’s pilot out of the cockpit before starting the descent. The airlines that said they were instituting a two-person rule in the cockpit included Air Canada, easyJet and Norwegian Air Shuttle.
All German airlines will introduce that requirement, the German aviation association said Friday.
The European Aviation Safety Agency, based in Cologne, also advised airlines across the region to adopt a two-crew rule. The agency said the recommendation was “temporary,” pending the outcome of the French investigation into the Germanwings crash.
Thomas Winkelmann, the head of Germanwings, however, expressed doubt that such a rule would have prevented Tuesday’s crash.
“I ask myself, when a person is so bent on committing a criminal act, whether that is preventable, if for example a stewardess or steward is in the cockpit,” Winkelmann told the German public broadcaster ZDF on Thursday.