Prosecutor: Germanwings co-pilot feared going blind

Germanwings plane crash in the French Alps
The Oct. 16, 2014 file photo shows counters of German airline Germanwings at the airport in Cologne, Germany. An Airbus plane of Germanwings with at least 142 passengers, two pilots and four flight attendants on board has crashed in the Alps region Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, file)

By JAMEY KEATEN
Associated Press

PARIS (AP) – The co-pilot who crashed a Germanwings jet into the Alps feared that he was losing his eyesight, and some of the many doctors he consulted felt he was unfit to fly, a French prosecutor said Thursday.

The doctors didn’t report their concerns to Andreas Lubitz’s employers, however, because of German patient privacy laws, Marseille Prosecutor Brice Robin told reporters in Paris.

Robin met with families of victims Thursday and updated reporters on the status of the investigation into the March 24 crash, which killed all 150 people aboard. Families are just starting to receive remains of their loved ones and will start holding burials in the coming days and weeks.

Robin said the investigation so far “has enabled us to confirm without a shadow of a doubt … Mr. Andreas Lubitz deliberately destroyed the plane and deliberately killed 150 people, including himself.”

Investigators say Lubitz locked the pilot out of the cockpit and flew the plane into a French mountainside, after having researched suicide methods and cockpit door rules and practiced an unusual descent.

Robin said Lubitz had also investigated vision problems, and “feared going blind” – a career-ending malady for a pilot. Lubitz had suffered depression in the past and been on anti-depressants.

Lubitz had seven medical appointments within the month before the March 24 crash, including three appointments with a psychiatrist, Robin said. Some of the doctors felt Lubitz was psychologically unstable, and some felt he was unfit to fly, but “unfortunately that information was not reported because of medical secrecy requirements,” the prosecutor said.

In Germany, doctors risk prison if they disclose information about their patients to anyone unless there is evidence they intend to commit a serious crime or harm themselves.

German prosecutors have said he had no actual physical ailments. Robin said Lubitz complained of seeing flashing lights but that there was no apparent “organic” reason for Lubitz’s apparent vision troubles.

Germanwings and parent company Lufthansa have said that Lubitz had passed all medical tests and was cleared by doctors as fit to fly.

The question for investigators now is who could be held responsible. The prosecutor upgraded the investigation from a preliminary probe to a full-fledged manslaughter inquiry, which hands the case to investigating magistrates who can file eventual charges against people or entities.

German lawyer Peter Kortas, whose firm represents relatives of 34 victims, said negotiations with Germanwings about compensation began several days ago. Families were also seeking answers about delays in the return of victims’ remains.

“In this moment everything else is not as important as the fact that the bodies, (the) remains be returned to their families,” Kortas said. “It’s already more than two and a half months since the crash happened, so it’s finally necessary to get to closure.”

“The loss of the relatives should be compensated with also a suitable amount of money,” he added. “There are two points in these negotiations: First, the material loss for the material damages, and it is also about damages for pain and suffering.”

The first burial is expected Friday. Nearly half of the victims were German, 47 were Spanish and there were 17 nationalities among the remainder.

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Masha Macpherson in Paris, Geir Moulson and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin and Alan Clendenning in Madrid contributed to this report.

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This story corrects an earlier version to show that Lubitz had seven medical appointments in the month before the crash, not that he had seen seven doctors.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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