Reputation D-Day May Be Fast Approaching for German Airline

Site of crash of Lufthansa Airbus A320 in southern France where 149 passengers were killed as a result of the co-pilot aiming plane into mountains.

What began as a routine flight from Barcelona, Spain to Dusseldorf, Germany ended in tragedy for the 149 passengers.  What followed was an even greater mystery as to why and how such an accident could happen. The uncertainty was compounded even after the black box flight recorder was found that revealed only the co-pilot in the cockpit and the baffling revelation that the pilot was prohibited from re-entering the cockpit despite screams and apparently an attempt to break the door down with a fire ax, to no avail, as the plane plummeted to earth killing all its passengers, including 16 German high school students and two of their teachers.

Focus then shifted to the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, 27, who the Lufthansa CEO, Carsten Spohr,  said was “100 % fit to fly” that day as questions continued to swirl about the co-pilot’s history, his interrupted flight training,  and current medical status.

Shortly afterward, reports surfaced that the co-pilot was suffering from depression, had dropped out of the Lufthansa flight training because of it, that Lufthansa knew about it, still had bouts of depression for which he was getting medical attention, and was told by a doctor as recently as the day of the crash, that he should not work.  Even as information emerged about Mr. Lubitz’s struggle with depression and about his vision problems, commentators and acquaintances argued that the cockpit recording recovered last week was not decisive and that a technical failure could have been to blame.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was “100 % fit to fly” when he wasn’t. Lufthansa later admitted it had known of co-pilot’s history of depression. 

Andreas Lubitz

Andreas Lubitz, 27, the co-pilot who steered the Lufthansa plane and its 149 passengers to their mountainside death in the French Alps was known by Lufthansa to be suffering from depression.

And today, investigators who had been searching the co-pilot’s i-Pad said its user had been searching the Internet in the days leading up to the crash for information about how to commit suicide and the security measures for cockpit doors.  He had also told his doctors that he was on leave and not flying.

Lufthansa has now had to walk back the statement about his flight fitness and face questions about its own truth-telling.

Skepticism over the company’s claims that it didn’t know about Lubitz’s mental health problems surfaced near the start of the investigation, when prosecutors found several torn-up sick notes in his house. At the time, however, it was claimed he had hidden the evidence from his employers.

On Monday, investigators revealed he had received treatment for “suicidal tendencies.”

The revelations come as disturbing video footage taken by a passenger shows the final moments before the crash. Passengers can be heard screaming and shouting “my God!” in several languages as they realized what was about to happen.

What’s in store for Lufthansa?  One hopes that the airline, one of Germany’s corporate jewels and pride of the air, will sort out what happened, why, and the steps it will take to avoid other air catastrophes.  In the balance are passenger lives, corporate reputation, pilot rights, and the trust of the flying public.  Stakeholders abound deciding Lufthansa’s (and other airlines’) and it might be well if CEO Spohr began that process sooner rather than later before more revelations surface.

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