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March 24, 2015

DEVELOPING: Germanwings Flight 9525 Intentionally Crashed In The French Alps

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Written by: Ben Granucci
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A Germanwings aircraft flying between Barcelona and Dusseldorf has crashed in the French Alps Northwest of Nice. The aircraft was reported to be an Airbus A320. Initial reports from the French Government are that no survivors of the 150 on board are expected.

The aircraft involved is reported to have been registered D-AIPX, operating Germanwings Flight 9525. The flight had been flying at 38,000 feet when the flight crew indicated they had an emergency and made a rapid decent to between 5,000 and 10,000 feet. A statement from the French Interior Minister indicated that the area in which debris had been found was about 2,000 meters (~6,500 feet) above sea level.

Germanwings is a low cost subsidiary of Lufthansa. In a statement, they said that there were 144 passengers and 6 crew members onboard the flight.

(Update March 26, 9:30am EDT) in a press conference this morning, French prosecutors indicated that they believe that Germanwings Flight 9525 was deliberately crashed. Based on transcripts from the recovered Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), the following timeline has been established:

The captain of the flight (who has not yet been identified by name) was the pilot flying (PF) for the BCN-DUS leg. The captain had 10 years and 6,000 hours of experience flying A320 family aircraft for Lufthansa and germanwings . At one point over Southern France, the captain instructed the first officer (identified as Andreas Lubitz) to take over flying the aircraft. Following that sounds of a seat (presumably the captain’s) being slid aft and the flight deck door being opened and shut can be heard. With only the first officer on the flight deck at this point, sounds of the flight management system being manipulated (presumably to command a change in altitude) can then be heard. After the captain had left the flight deck, the first officer did not say a single word, although normal breathing sounds were observed until impact. The captain was denied reentry to the flight deck, presumably through the use of an override switch that disabled access through the keypad on the armored flight deck door. 

An analysis of Mode-S data received from the flight by tracking site Flightradar24 shows that the altitude programmed into the autopilot was changed from 38,000 feet to 100 feet just before the descent began. 

 No motive has yet been suggested for the first officer’s actions. However German officials have stated that he had no known connections to terrorism. 

European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulations state that both crew members must remain in the flight deck during the  cruise phase unless one needs to leave “for operational or physiological reasons”. This is in contrast to flights in the United States where two people must be on the flight deck at all times. In the US, when one of the flight crew members leaves the flight deck, they must be replaced by a member of the cabin crew. 

All indications at this time are that the passengers were unaware of what was happening to the aircraft until just before impact. Screams were only heard during the final seconds of the descent. Just prior to the final impact, the sounds of what is likely the initial impact can be heard on the CVR. 

Search crews continue to search for the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) at the crash site. They also indicated that it could take up to two weeks to recover all of the remains of those on board with identification taking even longer. Families of those on board have been asked to submit DNA samples. Lufthansa also flew family members to the area of the crash earlier today. 


(Image courtesy Michael Schlesinger via Flickr Creative Commons under the Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) License.)

About the Author

Ben Granucci
Ben Granucci, Senior Editor, is an aviation enthusiast and plane spotter based in New York City. Growing up in Connecticut, he has had his eyes toward the sky for as long as he can remember. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.



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