In Depth

Woman convicted of fraud after posing as Germanwings crash relative

'Sandra C' given year's suspended sentence for falsely claiming £13,400 in trips to south of France

 A woman has been convicted of fraud in Germany after pretending to be a relative of one of the victims of the Germanwings plane crash in order to claim compensation from the airline's parent company, Lufthansa.

Named only as Sandra C, the 35-year-old woman claimed to be a cousin of one of the 150 passengers killed when co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately flew into the French Alps in March 2015.

Cologne district court heard she twice took advantage of Lufthansa's policy to fly victims' relatives to the crash site, staying at an upmarket hotel in Marseilles on one occasion and travelling with her two children and a friend on another, reports the BBC. The trips were worth more than €15,000 (£13,400).

Investigators later discovered she had no links to the passenger, who was one of two teachers killed in the crash.

Sandra C was not present at the hearing for medical reasons but was given a year's suspended prison sentence. She has the option to reject the verdict, which would send the case to trial.

Following the crash, aviation authorities in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom introduced new regulations requiring the presence of two authorised personnel in the cockpit at all times.

Lubitz had previously been treated for suicidal tendencies and declared "unfit to work" by a doctor.

Germanwings crash: manslaughter charges could be brought

12 June

French prosecutors have opened a criminal inquiry into the Germanwings plane crash to determine whether manslaughter charges can be brought. 

 Brice Robin, the prosecutor leading the French investigation into the crash, revealed new details about the health of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who suffered from depression and is believed to have deliberately flown the plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

He said Lubitz had seen 41 separate doctors in the last five years and was examined by seven doctors in the month leading up to the crash. They included one GP, three psychologists and three eye specialists. 

Lubitz told doctors he feared he was going blind, but they could find no natural cause for his failing sight and suggested the problem might be psychological.

If manslaughter charges are brought, it remains unclear who they would target, the BBC reports. "For the moment, we don't have certainty that Germanwings or Lufthansa were aware of this information," said Robin. "That will be part of what the magistrates are looking into."

Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, admitted that it knew Lubitz was suffering from depression while he was training for his pilot's licence in 2009, but insists he passed all the required fitness-to-fly tests.

Several of the doctors who treated Lubitz felt he was unfit to fly but were bound by German patient confidentiality laws, the prosecutor said. Doctors face jail time if they break the privacy rules, unless they have evidence that the patient is going to harm others or themselves.

"This investigation will allow us to better understand the balance between medical secrecy and flight safety," said Robin. "It should explain how and why a pilot can find himself in a cabin with the intention to destroy the plane and its passengers."

The father of one of the Britons killed in the crash said he was shocked to discover Lubitz had so many medical problems and was still allowed to fly.

"Our only hope is that something can be done to stop anyone else from having to face what we and the other families have been through," Phillip Bramley told The Independent. "Everything possible must be done to ensure than anyone flying a plane is fit to do so."

Germanwings victims finally flown home for burial

10 June

The remains of 44 victims of the Germanwings plane crash have been flown back to Dusseldorf, nearly three months after co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is believed to have deliberately crashed flight 4U 9525 into the French Alps.

All 150 people on board died in the crash en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf in March. Lubitz is thought to have locked the captain out of the cockpit and flown the plane into the mountainside.

Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, sent the coffins by cargo plane on Tuesday night from Marseille. The remains of the rest of the victims will be sent back in the next few weeks.

Elmar Giemulla, a lawyer for some of the families, said the arrival of the remains would give relatives "closure". Speaking to AFP yesterday, he said many of the relatives he has met are still "in denial" about the crash. "They cannot and do not want to realise that their children are dead," he explained. "It will be brutal when they see the coffins tomorrow, but it is necessary, because they need closure."

Later today, a convoy of hearses will make their way from Dusseldorf to Haltern, driving past the high school attended by 16 young 4U 9525 passengers, who had been flying home from a foreign exchange trip.

Burials for the first 44 victims to be repatriated are expected to begin in the coming days.

It has taken months to return the remains because errors on official death certificates rendered them invalid, reports the BBC. Finding and identifying remains in the remote area of the Alps also proved difficult because the plane was travelling so fast that the crash vapourised much of the aircraft and its contents.

Brice Robin, the Marseille prosecutor leading the French investigation into the crash, said he will meet with victims' relatives tomorrow in Paris to go over the discovery of DNA evidence and explain the details of handing over remains.

Germanwings pilot 'rehearsed' crash on previous flight

6 May

Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who crashed a Germanwings plane into the French Alps in March, allegedly attempted a series of similar "controlled descents" on another flight earlier in the day.

All 150 people on board flight 4U 9525 died in the crash en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf. Lubitz is believed to have deliberately locked the captain out of the cockpit and flown the plane into the mountainside.

French air investigation authorities released a report about the 24 March disaster earlier today, in which they said Lubitz had interfered with the aircraft controls on the outbound flight from Dusseldorf to Barcelona.

"On several occasions - again with the captain out of the cockpit - the altitude dial was set to 100ft (30m), the lowest possible reading, despite instructions by air traffic control in Bordeaux to set it to 35,000ft and then 21,000ft," the BBC reports.

The report referred to a "controlled descent that lasted for minutes and for which there was no aeronautical justification".

The discovery is said to have been made following a close evaluation of the jet's black box flight recorder.

"This shows that Lubitz clearly deviated from the planned flight. It is not to be excluded that he was not only rehearsing his later act on the outbound flight but perhaps even wanted to realise it," says German newspaper Bild.

A transcript from the aircraft's flight recorder reveals that on the return leg, Captain Patrick Sondenheimer pleaded with Lubitz to unlock the cockpit door. "For God's sake, open the door," he shouts, as loud, metallic banging can also be heard.

Lubitz can be heard breathing, but he says nothing. The final sounds are screams from passengers.

Following the crash, it was revealed that Lubitz had been battling severe depression and suicidal thoughts for years. Police searching his home discovered that he had been signed off sick by a doctor on the day that he crashed the plane.

 

Earlier this month it was also revealed that he had researched suicide methods on the internet in the days before the crash.

 

Dusseldorf prosecutor Christoph Kumpa said Lubitz had "searched for several minutes with search terms relating to cockpit doors and their security measures".

 

Germanwings crash: reporters insist 'harrowing' video is real

02 April

French and German journalists who claim to have seen "harrowing" video footage from inside the doomed Germanwings plane just before it crashed are "convinced" that the recording is authentic.

Investigators have confirmed that mobile phones were discovered in the debris, but insist that they have not yet been examined.

French magazine Paris Match and German tabloid Bild both claim to have seen the recording, allegedly taken by a passenger from the back of the Airbus in the final moments before it crashed.

Neither of the publications published the footage, described by Frederic Helbert, an investigative reporter for Paris Match, as "harrowing". He claims the video came from a memory card found among the wreckage by a source close to the investigation.

"The sound is atrocious," he said. "It shows the human dimension of panic, distress, screaming people on board. That is what is terrible. This is why we chose not to publish the video."

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is believed to have deliberately locked the captain out of the cockpit and flown the plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.

Helbert said: "The scene is so chaotic that you cannot make out anyone, but the passengers' screams show that they were perfectly conscious of what was about to happen to them. We heard cries of 'My God' in several languages. We also hear, at least three times, metallic blows, which leads us to think the pilot tried to open the cockpit door with a heavy object. Towards the end, after a strong shake, the screams became louder. Then nothing."

French police initially told CNN the reports were "completely wrong", but Brice Robin, the investigation's lead public prosecutor, has since said anyone who did have possession of such a video should hand it in to investigators.

Bild has also claimed Lubitz lied to doctors by telling them that he was on sick leave while he was still flying. The German tabloid claims he was on medication so strong that patients are advised not to drive a car, let alone fly a commercial plane.

Germanwings: black box reveals flight's final moments   

March 30

The captain of the doomed Germanwings flight 4U 9525 can be heard shouting at his co-pilot to "open the damn door" in the final moments before the plane crashed into the French Alps.

All 150 people on board were killed when co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately flew the plane into the mountain range, according to officials. His colleague Captain Patrick Sondheimer had stepped out of the cockpit to go to the toilet.

A transcript from the aircraft's black box voice recorder, seen by German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, reveals Sondheimer pleading with Lubitz to unlock the cockpit door.

"For God's sake, open the door," he shouts. Loud, metallic banging can also be heard, which officials suspect was the sound of Sondheimer using an axe to try to break down the door.

Lubitz can be heard breathing, but he says nothing. The final sounds are screams from passengers.

Earlier on in the flight, Lubitz had twice suggested Sondheimer should go to the toilet after the captain mentioned he had not had a chance to go in the airport.

Asked if he could check the landing preparations, Lubitz had replied "Hopefully... Let's see."

Authorities say Lubitz was being treated for psychological issues and had hidden aspects of his medical condition from his employer. Doctors' notes were found in his apartment in Dusseldorf excusing him from work, including one for the day of the crash. The New York Times says he may have been seeking treatment for vision problems that might have jeopardised his ability to continue working as a pilot.

It has also been reported that he was having relationship problems with his girlfriend of seven years, who was pregnant.

According to The Times, between 400 and 600 body parts have been located at the scene of the crash. Patrick Touron, a senior gendarme, told the newspaper: "We have not found a single body intact."

Germanwings pilot intended to destroy plane, say officials

March 26

French officials have confirmed that the co-pilot of the Germanwings plane that crashed into the French Alps on Tuesday killing all 150 people on board intended to destroy the plane.

According to the BBC, officials have said the co-pilot of flight 4U 9525, who has been named as Andreas Lubitz, took "sole control of the plane and started descent".

A French prosecutor said the cockpit voice recorder reveals that the captain left the flight deck shortly before the plane began to lose altitude. 

"At that moment, the co-pilot is controlling the plane by himself," he said. "While he is alone, the co-pilot presses the buttons of the flight monitoring system to put into action the descent of the aeroplane. This action on the altitude controls can only be deliberate."

Overnight, a senior military official had told the New York Times that one of the two pilots might have been locked out of the cockpit as the plane descended.

According to the newspaper and French news agency AFP, the voice recorder revealed the sound of one pilot banging on the door in the minutes before the plane crashed, but he received no response from his co-pilot.

The investigation insider told the NYT: "The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer. And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer. You can hear he is trying to smash the door down."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said it was not known why he left the cockpit. "But what is sure is that at the very end of the flight, the other pilot is alone and does not open the door," he said.

Meanwhile, data leaked to German newspaper Bild showed that French air traffic controllers tried three times to radio the cockpit without getting any response.

Some aviation experts had earlier suggested that a catastrophic depressurisation in the cockpit could have rendered the co-pilot unconscious, but one senior French official involved in the investigation told the Daily Telegraph the possibility of the pilot deliberately remaining silent had not be ruled out.

Three British passengers who died in the crash have been named as Julian Pracz-Bandres, a seven-month-old baby from Manchester travelling with his Spanish mother; Martyn Matthews, a 50-year-old father-of-two from Wolverhampton; and Paul Bramley, a 28-year-old hospitality student from Hull.

Germanwings latest: crash site in Alps 'a picture of horror'

25 March

The site in the southern French Alps where a Germanwings plane crashed yesterday with 150 people on board has been described as a "picture of horror".

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said this morning that three Britons were among the dead. 

The search and recovery operation resumed today, but officials have warned that it could last for days as the aircraft came down in a remote mountain ravine.

Gilbert Sauvan, president of the general council Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, said everything was "pulverised" and nobody could access the site from the ground. Investigators are being dropped in by helicopter. "The largest pieces of debris are the size of a small car," he said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was flown over the ravine, said "the site is a picture of horror".

The leaders of Germany, France and Spain are expected to travel to the crash scene later on today.

The Airbus A320, flight 4U 9525, which was travelling from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, crashed between Digne and Barcelonnette after a rapid eight-minute descent, with no survivors, say officials.

Around 67 of the victims are believed to be German, including 16 school pupils returning from a trip, while more than 40 victims were thought to be Spanish. Travellers from Australia, Turkey, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium were also said to be among the dead.

One of the two "black box" flight recorders has been found, with investigators working to find out the cause of the crash.

Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent, suggests the pilots, who did not send out a distress signal, might have been "coping with something so catastrophic they never had time to radio in a mayday, or turn to find the nearest runway".

150 confirmed dead in Alps crash

24 March 

Lufthansa's low-cost airline Germanwings says plane had 144 passengers and six crew on board

All 150 people on board a Germanwings Airbus A320 that came down in the French Alps have died, France's prime minister has confirmed, as rescue teams reach the crash site. 

Flight number 4U 9525 was carrying 144 passengers, two pilots and four cabin crew, the BBC reports. The aircraft, which was 24 years old, had been en route from Barcelona to Dusseldorf.

Bernard Cazeneuve, France's interior minister, said that debris from the jet has been found near the small town of Barcelonnette, in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, about 65 miles north of the French Riviera city of Nice. 

There is no road access to the crash site, which is at an altitude of 2,000m, but a rescue helicopter reached the scene shortly before 2.30pm GMT this afternoon. The largest piece of debris found was the size of a car, an official told Les Echos, and there was no sign of any survivors.

It was initially reported that the Germanwings plane had issued a distress call, but French civil aviation authorities subsequently said that the alert came from air traffic controllers. They say their last contact with the aircraft was at 9.53am GMT. 

"The plane had been descending at 5,000 feet" when it dropped off the radar, according to Deutsche Welle. Flightradar said the aircraft was dropping at a rate of between 3,000 and 4,000ft per minute, which is about the rate at which it would descend for a landing.

It is not clear why the aircraft was dropping, but speculation is focusing on a possible mechanical failure.

Reports in German media that a software glitch caused by frozen sensors may have been responsible has been dismissed by Germanwings, which said that the plane's computers had recently been updated. 

The airline has updated its website and social media accounts, replacing its red and yellow logo with a black and grey version. "We must confirm to our deepest regret that Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf has suffered an accident over the French Alps," a message on the website stated. 

It said that a telephone helpline, 0800 11 33 55 77, had been set up for relatives of those on board.

The weather in the area was good at the time of the accident, although it has since started to deteriorate. Snow is forecast for tomorrow, according to the BBC.

Germanwings' managing director Oliver Wagner told reporters that the airline could not yet give any reason for the crash, but said it would do everything possible to determine what happened. "Our deep sympathy goes out to the relatives and friends of the victims," he said.

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