Airline Pilots & Depression on Anniversary of GermanWings Crash

March 24, 2017 / Share your comments...

The father of the co-pilot of GermanWings Flight 9525 which flew into the French Alps two years ago used the anniversary of the disaster to plead that his son may not have intended to crash the airplane.

Günther Lubitz hired Tim Van Beveren, a German aviation writer and investigator to review the final report of French investigators. Both men say it is lacking in hard evidence that Andres Lubitz purposefully flew the plane into the mountains killing all 150 on board.

News reports say that the father of the GermanWings first officer, insisted his 27-year old son was not depressed or suicidal and Van Beveren criticized the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses for a report full of inconsistencies.

“We must live with having not only lost our son but that he was depicted as a depressive mass murderer,” Günther Lubitz said. “We have to live with the fact that whenever terrible assassinations happen in the world, his name is repeatedly mentioned.”

The grief of the Lubitz family nothwithstanding, neither Lubitz nor Van Beveren put forward any evidence to counter the conclusion of criminal and aviation investigators. The government officials found that during a flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, Andres Lubitz took advantage of the captain’s absence from the cockpit, and put the airplane in a controlled descent that lead to its catastrophic ending 10 minutes later.

The story of Lubitz bouts of depression both during his initial pilot training with Lufthansa and in the weeks prior to the flight, has been well told. What has received less attention is the report that Lubitz was taking Mirtazapine prior to the crash.

Mirtazapine is an anti-depressant with side effects that include suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior. Common side effects also include abnormal dreams, abnormal thinking and confusion. Mirtazaprine is not a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. SSRIs are a class of drug closely linked to violent behavior. Still, Mirtazapine is among those drugs that the American Food and Drug Administration cautions has serious and life-threatening adverse side effects.

Lubitz would not be the first person to exhibit surprising violent behavior as a result of the use of anti-depressants. The relationship between these drugs and violent behavior including mass shootings has been the subject of numerous law suits against pharmaceutical companies and is tracked by a number of public interest websites including this one.

Families of the other 149 people killed on the Fight 9525 were said to be disturbed at the insensitivity that Günther Lubitz would select the anniversary of the tragedy to make his public statements. On an emotional level they may be right. Who other than those who have experienced such a tragedy can judge?

On the other hand, Lubitz and Van Beveren remind those who lost loved ones and indeed everyone who flies, that air safety investigations must be performed to the highest standard and that all the lessons must be heeded to prevent future disasters.

It is not helpful to demonize Andres Lubitz and it does nothing to address the problem revealed by the GermanWings crash; pilots often encounter a conflict between an honest account of their health status and their livelihood. Faced with the consequences of admitting a problem, a number of them are opting to keep silent. They will either go untreated, or take prohibited medication and continue to fly.

Since 1980, there have been five other cases like GermanWings, where commercial pilots deliberately crashed planes. In a similar number of cases, disaster was likely averted when a pilot was restrained after behaving in an inappropriate manner during the flight.

Those pilots may very well have been boxed in by the same dilemma described by the BEA in its investigation of Andres Lubitz; fearful of losing their right to fly by reporting a mental illness and troubled by the financial consequences of taking time off from work.

Like mental illness itself, this reality can’t be wished away and it is ignored at the peril of the flying public. I can’t think of a better day to acknowledge that.



Categories: Flying Lessons

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