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Questions Remain About Germanwings Co-Pilot's Illness


Open the door. For God's sake, open this door. Those are said to be the words of the captain of Germanwings Flight 9525 from a transcript leaked to a German newspaper today and a phrase that's certain to be etched forever in our collective memory. The co-pilot of the airliner is suspected to have deliberately crashed the plane in the French Alps last week, killing all 150 people aboard. Lauren Frayer has the latest, reporting from Spain, home to about a third of the plane's passengers.


LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Memorial masses were held today in the French Alps and here in Spain, where church bells tolled after three days of official mourning. The fated Germanwings airliner took off from Barcelona. Those grieving here include Spanish families who just hosted a group of German exchange students who died on their way home.

PERE GRIVE: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "We're providing psychological counseling to students and families," says the Spanish town's deputy mayor, Pere Grive, "especially those whose families housed the 16 German students in their homes for a week before they died." In the French Alps, construction crews are building an access road toward the crash site in an area so remote, it's been reached only by helicopter so far. Investigators are still looking for the plane's second black box flight recorder. The wreckage, strewn across 9,000-foot mountains, is dotted with red flags indicating where human remains have been found.

JORGE FERNANDEZ DIAZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "We are asking for DNA samples from relatives to help positively identify the passengers' remains," Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz told reporters. Many relatives are still gathered in a French village near the crash site, where officials have isolated the parents of copilot Andreas Lubitz from the rest of the mourners. French TV aired a re-enactment plane's final ten minutes in flight based on what the German newspaper Bild says is a transcript of the black box recording.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

FRAYER: "Open the door. For God's sake, open this door," the plane's pilot is said to scream, trying to gain his way back into the cockpit after having left. Officials say only methodical breathing could be heard from the co-pilot inside.


CHRISTOPH KUMPA: (Speaking German).

FRAYER: "We found no suicide note nor claim of responsibility," Duesseldorf prosecutor Christoph Kumpa told reporters after a search of Lubitz' apartment, "but we did find medical documents suggesting an existing illness and medical treatment." Officials haven't elaborated publicly on the nature of that illness. Some U.S. and German newspapers quote unnamed investigators as saying Lubitz may have suffered vision problems that could have jeopardized his flying career. Colleagues say he dreamed of being a pilot since childhood. His license was up for renewal in a few months. Matthias Gebauer, a journalist to Germany's Der Spiegel newspaper, told NPR's Weekend Edition that Lubitz may have been treated for depression.

MATTHIAS GEBAUER: It seems very much that he, from the beginning, quite consciously hid this illness from his employer because he knew that if Germanwings would get any sort of information that he suffered from depression or any other kind of mental illness, they would kick him out of the education, and they would pull away his pilot license.

FRAYER: Prosecutors say they found doctors' notes saying Lubitz was too ill to fly, including one covering the day of the crash. The notes were torn up in the waste basket of his apartment. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.