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Lufthansa Says Co-Pilot Suffered From Depression During Training

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Lufthansa Says Co-Pilot Suffered From Depression During Training

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Lufthansa Says Co-Pilot Suffered From Depression During Training

Lufthansa Says Co-Pilot Suffered From Depression During Training

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/396636839/396636855" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Speculation about the mental state of the Germanwings co-pilot who crashed his plane in the French Alps a week ago has focused attention on airline industry practices and questions of medical confidentiality.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's been a week since a Germanwings flight crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board. Investigators are still looking for the flight data recorder as they try to determine if the plane's copilot, Andreas Lubitz, deliberately flew the aircraft into a mountain.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today, Lufthansa said Lubitz had told the company's flight school that he had suffered a serious depressive episode in 2009 which had interrupted his pilot training. In a moment, we'll hear from a psychiatrist about some of the questions this case is raising. We begin with this report from NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

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ANDREAS LUBITZ: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: This amateur video broadcast on French and German television shows Andreas Lubitz 10 years ago. The smiling teenager is in the cockpit of a glider flying over his hometown. Now investigators are trying to find out how a young man whose lifelong goal was to become a pilot could have possibly flown a plane full of passengers into a mountainside. Lufthansa, parent company of Germanwings, at first defended Lubitz. After the cockpit voice recordings were made public, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr, speaking here through an interpreter, said his company had the world's best pilots and it had considered Lubitz one of them.

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CARSTEN SPOHR: (Through interpreter) He was successful in all of the medical checks, the psychological tests. He went through all of that with flying colors. There have never been the slightest restriction - any doubt cast on his competence and his skills.

BEARDSLEY: Spohr called Lubitz 100-percent fit. But then today Lufthansa announced Lubitz had told them about having depressive episodes in 2009 as he sought to rejoin pilot training after taking a months-long break. A recent search of Lubitz's home turned up boxes of medication and torn up doctor's notes for sick leave, including one note for the day of the crash. It also turns out Lubitz had received psychiatric treatment for suicidal tendencies before he even got his pilot's license, though authorities did not say when. Christoph Kumpa is the spokesperson for the Dusseldorf prosecutor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPH KUMPA: He had at that time been in treatment of a psychotherapist because of what is documented as being suicidical at that time.

BEARDSLEY: In a country with a legacy of Nazi and communist regimes that spied on their citizens, Germans value their privacy. But the Germanwings crash has ignited a debate over the limits of medical confidentiality. Even so, German pilots unions and many German doctors remain opposed to changing medical privacy laws. They say there are exemptions for reporting patients who pose a threat to themselves or others. Aviation psychologist Reiner Kemmler says even stricter regular psychological testing would not have caught Lubitz.

REINER KEMMLER: (Through interpreter) Pilots are intelligent. They know that psychological problems are grounds for losing their license, and they can hide them from employers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Today, French TV reports showed bulldozers clearing a dirt road to the crash site through the forest. Vehicles will now be able to reach the remote mountain for the first time, easing the search for evidence and human remains. The road will eventually be paved so the families of the victims can drive in whenever they wish and look out over the mountainside where their loved ones died. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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