LUBITZ, the Killer Co-Pilot
Three Takeaway Points
By Jay B Gaskill
Attorney at Law
If you’re just joining the parade, Andreas Lubitz is the name of the German copilot of the French airline that dived into the Alps. The plane was under his control all the way down. The consensus so far is that Mr. Lubitz locked out the pilot while he calmly and deliberately aimed the Airbus jet – and its passengers – at the ground from its safe cruising altitude. By all accounts, this was a mass murder. A voice recording was recovered from one of the two “black boxes” kept aboard leaves little doubt.
Everyone naturally asks the same questions:
How could this happen?
How can it be prevented?
The New York Times trumped the other news outlets today.
Adreas Lubitz, “27, is believed to be responsible for slamming Germanwings Flight 9525 into a mountainside in the French Alps on purpose, killing all 150 on board, while en route to Düsseldorf from Barcelona, Spain.”
“…among the items found at Mr. Lubitz’s home was a doctor’s note excusing him from work on the day of the crash, and another note that had been torn up. These documents “support the preliminary assessment that the deceased hid his illness from his employer and colleagues…”
“…there had been an instance six years ago when Mr. 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…”
Here are the takeaway points:
No commercial aircraft carrying passengers should be allowed to fly with only one person inside the lockable flight deck. The US has a two person rule, Europe, so far, does not.
Pilot privacy can never be allowed to trump passenger safety.
Suicide is homicide. Allow me to briefly elaborate on this point.
Years ago in the process of defending a murder case, I interviewed a famous forensic psychiatrist, Dr. B. My client had first attempted suicide; then he later murdered his wife. It was a long and illuminating conversation. Suicide is a homicide is which one’s self is the primary object of the killing. But the line between a suicide-homicide and the killing of someone else-homicide is razor thin.
My expert told me that when one compares Tokoyo, say in 1980, with Dallas in the same year, the data reveal a very similar rate of killings per 100,000 of population, if suicides and homicides are lumped together. The difference is explained by cultural and moral norms. In Tokoyo of the day, it was more honorable to take one’s life, but far more shameful to kill another.
When we read of some miscreant (my former clients tended to call these people, “sick f**ks”) who kills his or her spouse and children then commits suicide, my comment (only partly in jest) is that the killer got the order wrong – Why not try suicide first?
The most serious takeaway is that suicidal thoughts and urges are a red flag.
Applicants for responsible positions like the pilots of international flights with hundreds of passengers, tend to know that “mental issues” can be an employment bar. We already know that people will train to the test. Young pilots are no exception.
We are living in a secular era when people tend to project false self-images; are undeterred by the prospect of justice being visited on them by a higher power after they die; and we inhabit a culture in which some of the most heinous acts are medicalized, effectively drained of their moral significance.
There is growing and disturbing evidence that some medications approved for depression or anxiety can, in some cases, work the opposite. This is why the labels suggest that if you have suicidal thoughts, please immediately inform your physician. Even if you are a pilot? Even if the releation might end your career?
One final observation: Character still matters. More now than ever. It is not really about the determination of the long distance runner. Character is a moral condition. It is about moral strength. It is about the moral courage to turn away from doing the wrong thing no matter what.
A license to link to this article or to publish pull quotes from it (with full attribution) is hereby granted. For all other permissions and comments, please contact the author via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The author served as the chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, CA, headquartered in Oakland for 10 years, following a long career as an Assistant Public Defender. Then, Gaskill left his “life of crime” to devote more time to writing. Learn more about Jay B Gaskill, attorney, analyst and author, at http://jaygaskill.com/WhoIsJayBGaskill.pdf