Flight 9525

Andreas Lubitz
Andreas Lubitz

I’ve now heard three or four theories about why Germanwings Flight 9525 co-pilot Andreas Lubitz might have crashed Flight 9525 into the French Alps.

But none of them adequately explain this young man’s suicide that took 149 other people with him.

He and his girlfriend just broke up. Such rejection can make a person crazy. I gather you can rule out any political motive. You can rule out a religious motive. Lubitz never identified with any radical group.

We know that he was passionate about flying. He worked in a fast food so he could afford to take lessons. He learned to fly gliders before he earned a chance to co-pilot a big passenger airliner.

Yet he had vision problems. Those could well have jeopardized his flying career. Even more than that, Lubitz had been treated for major depression. He tore up prescriptions for anti-depressants.
A psychiatrist had urged him not to fly.

Still, none of this accounts for the deaths of 149 other people. I have noted that after the tragedy, we’ve learned that airlines, in the U.S. and in Europe, don’t always take mental illness in pilots as seriously they could.

For one thing, lots of depressed people have learned to conceal their moods from others. Moreover, prejudice toward the illness is common, no matter where a person lives. Prejudice is just a good way of fostering ignorance.

I know from my research and experience in our own family that the danger people with mental illness pose is not to others but to themselves. In this country, thousands of persons with this diagnosis take their own lives. Rarely do they kill another person.

That takes us back to Lubitz. Of course, the fact that depressed people rarely kill others is no comfort to the family members who lost loved ones in Flight 9525. But you can be sure that like U.S. airlines, European companies henceforth will require at least two persons in the cockpit at all times.

Even as I write a couple of days after the tragedy, I’ve learned that the airlines are reviewing their screening of pilots to make sure that no person with a serious mental illness gets to pilot a big airliner. Somebody with major depression is not likely to be thinking clearly. The person can become delusional. Without an objective reason, he or she can rationalize quitting a job or filing for divorce.

In the days ahead, I’m sure we’ll learn much more about Lubitz and this tragedy. But this needless loss of so many lives can serve as a reminder to all of us who’ve followed the news. There remain too many people who struggle with mental illness and don’t get treatment. Help remains for the asking. And hope for those who suffer.

I don’t claim to have all the answers to the loss of Flight 9525. I’m certain of this. Lubitz tragic act was not the act of a rational person.

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