Germanwings plane crash
10:54 AM EST MAR 24, 2015
A Germanwings Airbus A320 has crashed with 150 passengers and crew aboard in a remote part of the Alps in southern France on Tuesday. All on board are feared dead in the worst aviation accident in France for more than 30 years. The main details:
The plane crashed near Meolans-Revels, a small village of 300, at an altitude of more than 6,500 feet in the southern Alps
Flight 4U9525 took off from the Spanish city of Barcelona at 10:01 a.m. local time en route for Düsseldorf in Germany.
Not long after entering French air space, the plane reached its cruising altitude, held it for a minute, then lost altitude for 8 minutes before losing radar contact with French air traffic control at 10:53 a.m., according to Lufthansa.
Vacationers Among the Victims
As well as a crew of six, there were 144 passengers on board, among them children, understood to be mostly Germans returning home from vacation.
The jetliner belonged to Germanwings, the low-fare unit of German flag carrier Deutsche Lufthansa. Germanwings, founded in 2002, hadn’t had any fatal crashes. The A320 is Airbus Group’s most popular model, a workhorse of many carriers around the world, with more than 3,600 in service.
Search, Rescue and Recovery
French Police reported two helicopter spotted the remains of the aircraft on the ground at about 2700 meters elevation (8800 feet) between Prads-Haute-Bleone and Barcelonnette (France), about half way between the two cities there is a mountain ridge rising up to 8900 feet.
The President of France reported, it does not appear there are any survivors. The crash site is very difficult to reach.
On Mar 25th 2015 more than 300 policemen and 380 fire fighters departed Seyne-les-Alpes, the base for the search and recovery, to continue the recovery efforts, that were suspended during the night. Weather conditions are better than expected, no precipitation and less strong winds than forecast.
On Mar 26th 2015 first human remains were recovered from the crash site and airlifted to Seyne-les-Alpes, where relatives have been taken to too.
On Mar 27th 2015 soldiers of the French Army joined the recovery teams providing tracked vehicles. The efforts to recover the bodies of the victims resume after being suspended during the night.
On Mar 28th 2015 Recovery Services, while continuing to recover human remains, still focus on the search for the flight data recorder.
On Mar 29th 2015 the States Attorney of Marseille reported, that the human remains of 78 people have been identified using DNA testing. The Prosecutor said in response to media reports surfacing in Germany, that the first officer’s remains have been identified, that those reports were false.
On Mar 31st 2015 Recovery Services reported that an access road to the crash site has been finished and opened, first heavy recovery machinery is on the way to the crash site.
On Apr 1st 2015 the French Gendarmerie reported that all human remains have been recovered from the crash site. Recovery personnel is now collecting personal belongings, the search for the flight data recorder is continuing. The French Gendarmerie is unaware of any video (memory card) recovered from the crash site as claimed by some French and German media.
On Apr 10th 2015 Lufthansa confirmed that all personal belongings of the occupants of the aircraft have been recovered, a special firm has been engaged to clear the crash site from the wreckage. This work is expected to last 12-18 months.
Statements, mainly to sequence of events
France’s DGAC reported the crew transmitted an emergency call just prior to the aircraft disappearing from radar near Bassinet.
Germanwings and Lufthansa, parent company of Germanwings, confirmed flight 4U-9525 suffered an accident in the French Alps. There were 144 passengers and 6 crew on board. A hotline for family member was opened at Phone Number (Germany): 0800 11 33 55 77.
In a press conference about 4.5 hours after the aircraft disappeared from radar Germanwings reported 144 passengers, amongst them 2 babies, and 6 crew were on board. The aircraft reached its cruise level at 10:45L, one minute later the aircraft left cruise level and initiated a descent over 8 minutes. Radar contact was lost at 10:53L at about 6000 feet. The aircraft had been delivered by Airbus to Lufthansa in 1991 and had undergone all needed maintenance checks including a last check on Mar 23rd 2015, the last major maintenance check had been in Summer 2013. The captain had 6000 flight hours of experience. The airline received contradicting information from ATC France as to whether an emergency call had occurred.
France’s Air Traffic Control reported there had been no emergency call from the aircraft. There had been confusion initially, Marseille controllers declared Mayday for the aircraft when they observed the aircraft below safe altitude.
The French Ministry of Interior reported in the afternoon, about 8 hours after the aircraft disappeared from radar, that a first blackbox has been found.
The French BEA reported they have dispatched seven investigators on site, a press conference is going to be held on Mar 25th 2015 at 15:00Z.
Germany’s BFU have dispatched three investigators on site.
On Mar 25th 2015 France’s Minister of Interior reported that the recovered black box was the cockpit voice recorder. The CVR is damaged but usable.
On Mar 25th 2015 the French BEA reported in a press conference, that the aircraft was following its planned flight path. After cruising at FL380 for a little while the aircraft began to descend at about 09:30Z at a rate of 3500 fpm. The last radar position recorded by French ATC was at 6175 feet MSL at 09:40:47Z very close to the point of impact. The aircraft impacted ground at very high speed. The CVR was found on site at about 17:00L and handed over to the BEA, at 09:45L on Mar 25th the memory module was removed from the part left pretty much intact, there were some problems reading the data, but the BEA have been able to extract the audio file that can be used. This concluded the official part of the BEA press conference. In the questions the BEA reported, they have been able to listen to the audio for a first time, but having the audio only for a few minutes prior to the press conference are unable to make any further statement. The debris and distribution of debris does not suggest there has been any explosion on board of the aircraft. When confronted by journalists with rumours originating in Finnish media quoting Finland’s CAA about a burst windshield, the BEA said they have no such information.
On Mar 26th 2015 Lufthansa reported the captain had 6000 flight hours of experience, the first officer 630 hours. Germanwings and Lufthansa stated, that in view of media reports they have no such information and do not participate in speculations.
On Mar 26th 2015 the States Attorney of Dusseldorf (Germany) reported, that according to preliminary results by French Authorities only one pilot was in the cockpit at the time of the crash.
On Mar 26th 2015 the States Attorney of Marseille (France) reported, the first officer was alone in the cockpit. The first officer was not talking, only normal breathing could be heard after the captain departed the cockpit. The captain was not able to get back into the cockpit. The first officer initiated a rapid descent, there was no reason to initiate the rapid descent, there was no reason to not communicate with air traffic control, there was no reason why the door wouldn’t open. With the current information it can be said, that the breathing of the first officer is not consistent with someone suffering a heart attack or other health issue. Other than that there is absolute silence in the cockpit, screams are heard only in the last few moments. There were no words heard during the last 10 minutes of the flight. The states attorney thinks the first officer intentionally did not open the door.
In a joint press conference on Mar 26th 2015 Germanwings and Lufthansa stated they are shocked having to accept that according to cockpit voice recorder the first officer locked the captain out of the cockpit and deliberately steered the aircraft into terrain. Pilots undergo detailed assessment and psychological tests. The first officer started training in 2008, worked as a flight attendant, continued training after undergoing another assessment, passed all tests and started his pilot career as first officer on the A320 in 2013. The CEO of Lufthansa explained, that if after the extended code to enter the cockpit has been entered, the pilot in the cockpit receives a signal and has the ability to open the door or lock the door. If the pilot in the cockpit does not react at all, the cockpit door opens upon entering the extended code after some time. If the pilot in the cockpit selects to lock the door, the door remains locked for 5 minutes. Within the entire Lufthansa group there is no standard operating procedure requiring another member of the (cabin) crew to enter the cockpit if one of the pilots leaves the cockpit. The captain was permitted to leave the cockpit in cruise flight, e.g. for a toilet break.
On Mar 26th 2015 Germany’s Minister of Transport said, he and his experts are hoping the flight data recorder can be found and read out to get more concrete information about the last minutes of the flight.
On Mar 26th 2015 several airlines, including all German airlines, announced they are changing their standard operating procedures with immediate effect requiring two members of the crew on the flight deck at any time, if one of the pilots leaves the cockpit for a toilet break another pilot or flight attendant has to enter the cockpit until the pilot returns.
On Mar 27th 2015 the States Attorney in Dusseldorf confirmed that the two homes of the first officer have been searched in order to find clues to the motives of the first officer. A doctor’s sick note has been found during those searches, the paper was found torn, the first officer reported for the flight nonetheless.
On Mar 28th 2015 the Office of the States Attorney in Marseille reported, that the search for the flight data recorder is still ongoing. The office does not rule any scenario out yet including a technical problem of the aircraft, the social environment of the first officer is still being investigated.
On Mar 30th 2015 the States Attorney of Dusseldorf stated in a press conference, that there is no evidence of any organic problem (specifically referring to speculation in media the first officer’s eyesight might have been impaired). In the past, before acquiring his pilot’s license, the first officer was in psychotherapist treatment for suicidal tendencies. Since then there is evidence of several visits to doctors, however, from then up to now there is no hint in the direction of suicidal or aggressive tendencies. The States Attorney is not able and not permitted to participate in speculation, he can not state any more as result.
On Mar 31st 2015 the French BEA reported that the BEA investigation is continuing and is currently focussing on establishing the detailed progress of flight based on the cockpit voice recorder and other flight data, that may become available, as well as on identification of system weaknesses that possibly led to this catastrophe or similiar events. In particular the interest is directed at the locking mechanism logic of the cockpit door and the procedures to exit and access the cockpit as well as at criteria and procedures to detect specific psychological profiles.
On Mar 31st 2015 Lufthansa explained, that the first officer told the airline in 2009, that he had been in treatment for a depressive episode. The e-mail exchange has been forwarded to the States Attorney in Dusseldorf.
On Apr 2nd 2015 the States Attorney of Marseille announced, that the second black box, the flight data recorder, has been found and has been recovered from the crash site.
On Apr 3rd 2015 the French BEA reported that the flight data recorder was received by the BEA on Apr 2nd 2015, it was opened and a first read out of the data showed, that the pilot in the cockpit used the autopilot to descend the aircraft down to 100 feet, on several occasions the speed of the aircraft was adjusted during the descent.
Radar data, other Data analysis
Radar data suggest the aircraft had reached FL380 about 3 minutes prior to leaving FL380 and descended from FL380 through FL110 in 8 minutes (average rate of descent 3375 fpm). The last ADS-B position by the aircraft was transmitted at FL068 on a northeasterly heading of 26 degrees true, mountains rise up to 8900 feet about 1nm north of the last reported aircraft position.
Analysis of the BEA photo showing the overview of crash site suggests, the photographer was at position N44.270253 E6.429317 looking into direction 355 degrees true while taking the photo, identifying the position of the main wreckage at about N44.2705 E6.4289 at an elevation of about 1673 meters/5488 feet. This position is 400 meters from the last known position the aircraft’s transponder transmitted via ADS-B.
On Mar 31st 2015 The Aviation Herald was able to acquire a high resolution (0.5 meters per pixel) satellite image from European Space Imaging/DigitalGlobe, that had been taken on Mar 27th 2015. The satellite image identifies position N44.280 E6.439 as the position of the wreckage, about 1600 meters from the last known position of the aircraft transmitted via transponder.
The flight data recorder
On May 6th 2015 the French BEA released their preliminary report reporting:
“The CVR was found on the afternoon of 24 March 2015 and transferred the following day to the BEA for readout. After reading out the data, it appeared to the BEA that an act of unlawful interference was probably involved in the accident. European Regulation (EU) n°996/2010 and the advance arrangement ‘‘relating to Safety Investigations between the French ministry of Justice and the BEA’’ of 16 September 2014, specify that, in such a situation, the relevant elements gathered during the Safety Investigation must be communicated immediately to the judicial authorities, and the BEA can decide to continue the Safety Investigation, which it did.”
The BEA reported that the first officer (27, MPL, 919 hours total, 540 hours on type) was pilot flying, the captain (34, ATPL, 6,763 hours total, 3,811 hours on type, 259 hours in command) was pilot monitoring.
Following departure from Barcelona’s runway 07R a flight attendant requested entry into the cockpit, the cockpit door buzzer activated and the door was unlocked followed by noises of the door opening, the flight attendant entering the cockpit and closing the door. The flight attendant subsequently left the cockpit again.
At 09:27z the aircraft levelled off at FL380, the aircraft was in contact with Marseille control at 133.330MHz. The aircraft was handed off to 127.180MHz at 09:29:40z and received a direct routing to waypoint IRMAR, which the captain read back at 09:30:00z.
At 09:30:08z the captain told the first officer that he was leaving the cockpit and the first officer should handle radio communication, too, which the first officer acknowledged.
At 09:30:11z the aircraft turned onto a heading of 023 degrees consistent with the track towards waypoint IRMAR. A pilot’s seat was moved at 09:30:13z, the cockpit door opened at 09:30:24z and closed three seconds later.
At 09:30:54z the altitude on Flight Control Unit (FCU) was changed from 38000 to 100 within one second, another second later the autopilot changed to “OPEN DES” (Open Descent Mode) and autothrust commanded the engines to flight idle.
At 09:31:37z noises of a pilot’s seat moving were recorded on the CVR.
At 09:33:12z the speed management changed from “managed” to “selected”, subsequently the target speed was selected to 308 KIAS while the aircraft was at 273 KIAS. The aircraft began to accelerate along with the increase of it’s rate of descent which was between 1500 and 5000 fpm averaging at 3500 fpm.
At 09:33:35z the selected speed was set to 288 KIAS, then over the next 13 seconds was changed six times until it reached 302 KIAS.
At 09:33:47z ATC inquired what altitude the aircraft was cleared for but did not receive a reply, the aircraft was descending through FL300. ATC contacted the flight two more times over the next 30 seconds without reply.
At 09:34:23z the selected speed was set to 323 KIAS, the aircraft was at 301 KIAS at that point.
At 09:34:31z the door buzzer activated for one second.
Between 09:34:38z and 09:35:01z ATC tried to contact the flight multiple times without reply, at 09:35:01z, the aircraft descending through FL251 at that time, the controller used 133.330MHz.
At 09:35:03z the selected speed changed to 350 KIAS and remained at that value until impact, the aircraft’s indicated speed stabilized at 345 KIAS until impact. Autopilot and autothrust remained engaged.
Four calls from the cabin interphone were recorded between 09:35:04z and 09:39:02z but remained unanswered.
Noises consistent with a person knocking on the cockpit door were recorded six times between 09:35:32z and 09:39:02z.
Muffled voices were heard between 09:37:11z and 09:40:48z, at 09:37:11z a muffled voice asked for the door to be opened.
Between 09:35:07z and 09:37:54z Marseille control tried to raise the flight on frequency 121.500MHz on three occasions and 127.180MHz on two occasions, without any reply.
Between 09:38:38z and 09:39:23z the French Air Defense System tried to contact the crew on three occasions on 121.500MHz.
Noises consistent with violent blows against the cockpit door were recorded between 09:39:30z and 09:40:28z five times.
Low amplitude movements of the first officer’s side stick were recorded between 09:39:33z and 09:40:07z.
At 09:39:54z another flight crew tried to contact the flight, again without reply.
At 09:40:41z the GPWS activated the “Terrain! Terrain! Pull Up! Pull Up!” warning, which remained active until impact.
At 09:40:56z the Master Caution activated, at 09:41:00z the Master Warning activated and remained active until impact.
At 09:41:06z the cockpit voice recorder stopped at the moment of collision with terrain.
The BEA reported regarding flying career, training and medical license of the first officer:
– between January and April 2008, he took basic pilot’s training entry selection courses with Lufthansa;
– on 1 September 2008, he started his basic training at the ‘‘Lufthansa Flight Training Pilot School’’ in Bremen (Germany);
– on 5 November 2008 he suspended his training for medical reasons;
– on 26 August 2009 he restarted his training;
– on 13 October 2010, he passed his ATPL written exam;
– from 8 November 2010 to 2 March 2011, he continued his training at the ‘‘Airline Training Center’’ in Phoenix (Arizona, USA);
– from 15 June 2011 to 31 December 2013, he was under contract as a flight attendant for Lufthansa while continuing his Air Transport pilot training;
– on 2 September 2013, he joined Germanwings;
– from 27 September to 23 December 2013, he took and passed his A320 type rating at Lufthansa in Munich (Germany);
– from 27 January 2014 to 21 June 2014, he undertook his operator’s conversion training including his line flying under supervision at Germanwings;
– on 26 June 2014, he passed his proficiency check and was appointed as a co-pilot;
– on 28 October 2014, he passed his Operator Proficiency Check.
During his training and recurrent checks, his professional level was judged to be above standard by his instructors and examiners.
On 9 April 2008, he obtained a class 1 medical certificate without restrictions and valid until 9 April 2009, issued by the Lufthansa aeromedical centre.
On 9 April 2009, his class 1 medical certificate was not revalidated by the Lufthansa aeromedical centre due to depression and the taking of medication to treat it.
On 14 July 2009, his request for renewal of his class 1 medical certificate was refused by the Lufthansa aeromedical centre. The latter informed the LBA of this.
On 28 July 2009, he obtained a new class 1 medical certificate valid until 9 April 2010, endorsed with the note ‘‘Note the special conditions/restrictions of the waiver FRA 091/09 -REV-’’. His pilot’s licence then included the limitation ‘‘***SIC**incl. PPL***’’, which means ‘‘Specific regular medical examinations – contact the licence issuing authority’’. This limitation requires that the aeromedical examiner (AME) contact the licence issuing authority before proceeding with a medical evaluation relating to any extension or renewal of the medical certificate. It may relate to the medical history that the AME must be informed of before undertaking an assessment.
From July 2009, he obtained each year a class 1 medical certificate valid for one year that was endorsed with the note ‘‘Note the special conditions/restrictions of the waiver FRA 091/09 –REV -’’.
The last valid class 1 medical certificate had been issued on 28 July 2014 and was valid until 14 August 2015.
The BEA made an extensive description of the cockpit door lock system basically explaining that a standard entry request selected on the door panel would result in the door buzzer activating for one second. The crew then has the choice to unlock the door, indicated by a green LED at the door panel or to lock the door indicated by a red LED on the door panel (which inhibits further accesses for 5 minutes until the red LED extinguishes). In case of no pilot action no LED lights up, the door remains closed.
If an emergency entry code is entered at the door panel (e.g. suspecting flight crew incapacitation) the door buzzer then sounds continuously for 15 seconds and the green LED at the door panel starts to flash. If the crew does not respond during these 15 seconds, the door unlocks for 5 seconds and needs to be pushed open to open, then the door locks again. If the crew reacts the door opens or closes as selected by the flight crew.
The BEA reported about the previous flight from Dusseldorf to Barcelona (all times in UTC):
On the previous flight, the following facts can be noted:
– at 7 h 19 min 59, noises like those of the cockpit door opening then closing were recorded and corresponded to when the Captain left the cockpit; the aeroplane was then at cruise speed at flight level FL370 (37,000 ft);
– at 7 h 20 min 29, the flight was transferred to the Bordeaux en-route control centre and the crew was instructed to descend to flight level FL350 (35,000 ft), an instruction read back by the co-pilot;
– at 7 h 20 min 32, the aircraft was put into a descent to flight level FL350 , selected a few seconds earlier;
– at 7 h 20 min 50, the selected altitude decreased to 100 ft for three seconds and then increased to the maximum value of 49,000 ft and stabilized again at 35,000 ft;
– at 7 h 21 min 10, the Bordeaux control centre gave the crew the instruction to continue the descent to flight level FL210;
– at 7 h 21 min 16, the selected altitude was 21,000 ft;
– from 7 h 22 min 27, the selected altitude was 100 feet most of the time and changed several times until it stabilized at 25,000 ft at 7 h 24 min 13;
– at 7 h 24 min 15, the buzzer to request access to the cockpit was recorded;
– at 7 h 24 min 29 noises like those of the unlocking of the cockpit door then its opening was recorded and corresponded to the Captain’s return to the cockpit.
The cockpit door mechanism
Ref. Images and news referred from Wikipedia and other news channels.