Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Crazy In The Cockpit: Could This Air Tragedy Have Been Prevented?

Germanwings-Pilot Andreas L. war bei Neurologen und Psychologen in Behandlung
The Psycho before he commandeered the controls of Germanwings 9525

The name "Andreas Lubitz"  will now live on in infamy along with that of Timothy McVeigh, Adam Lanza (Newtown massacre),  James Eagen Holmes  and Eric Harris and Dylan Kliebold, the Columbine killers. As most of us are now aware, this Lubitz melted down just after the Germanwings flight took off from Barcelona, Spain, en route to Dusseldorf, Germany. After locking the pilot out of the cockpit he set the altimeter's  automatic flight path on a dive to 100' altitude. Of course, as we know, in a place like the French Alps, no such altitude would be reached and the jet actually crashed into the side of a mountain at about 4,000 ft. with all 150 lost.

The evidence now in, from German sources and others, is the guy had a "psychotic episode". The German paper Die Welt reported today he was being treated for "severe psychosomatic illness" and actually had been prescribed anti-psychotic meds for "strong subjective overload syndrome" . He tossed his meds away along with the prescriptions (according to reports).  In addition, he'd received a medical note of dispensation that he was unfit  to fly- including on the day he arrived for the Dusseldorf flight!  In other words, this psycho never should have been anywhere near the plane - far less inside the cockpit.

Reinforcing this, yesterday morning  on MSNBC, the clinical psychologist Dr. Ruth Wittersgreen proposed how the psychotic episode would have unfolded. First, there would be Lubitz dealing day to day with the stress of hiding his severe mental illness (which was so severe he had to be monitored over time) from the company. Second, if he fell into a pattern of sleep deprivation this would have directly triggered the "psychotic episode".

Amdist all this many have been asking, as one expert did on CNN this morning:

"Why this tragic communications breakdown between those treating Lubitz and the airline?"

Indeed. And here we also have parallels with the case of Aurora mass killer James Eagen Holmes, who was also being treated for severe psychological illness (at the Univ. of Colorado, Anschutz campus) prior to his rampage at an Aurora theater, slaying 12 and severely wounding dozens.  Why wasn't this information passed on to the proper authorities? The  canned excuse of "patient confidentiality" simply doesn't cut it -especially when the patient had produced violent diaries depicting himself as the "Joker" slaying people in a cinema. This all ought to have been out in the open, shared with the proper authorities.

In like manner, the fact Andreas Lubitz had been issued antipsychotic meds, as well as  been issued an "unfit to work" notice, ought to have been known by Lufthansa.  This was after he'd reported waking up screaming from nightmares.  THEY should have known of his condition in the immediate time sense and by virtue of the medical personnel informing them, not trusting a psycho to share it!  Of course, he would be determined to hide it, as we saw. Thus, this incident will militate in the future for medical professionals to directly share their diagnoses with airlines. No more hiding treatments, or "sick notes".

And no more balderdash that "he was fully fit to fly" - spouted out of abject ignorance  traced to dated information. With much higher scrutiny, including background checks - not just for criminality- this tragedy might have been prevented.

It also might have been prevented had people -e.g.  at least one of his ex-girlfriends, spoken the hell up after he was claimed to have said.

"After tomorrow everyone will remember my name."

Which interjects other famous declaratives issued the day before monumental tragedies, including:

"After tomorrow, those goddamned Kennedys will never bother me again!" - LBJ, night of Nov 21, 1963, to his then mistress Madeline Brown attending a party at Clint Murchison's Dallas home

"By tomorrow our names will be burned in everyone's memory!" - Dylan Kliebold in video diary kept by Columbine killers, Apr. 18, 1998.

Alas, no proactive moves could be made in response to the last, since it was only revealed after the Columbine massacre. On the other hand, timely action for the other two might have stopped an assassination, and a murderous airline crash.

Lastly, this incident is only the most recent in a string of deliberate pilot crashes since 1982 including:

- Feb. 9, 1982:  Japan Air Lines crash blamed on captain declared "mentally unstable" (174 lost)

- Aug.21, 1994, Royal Air Maroc flight intentionally plunged in Morocco by unstable pilot (44 lost)

- Dec. 19. 1997, Silkair plane deliberately crashed off Indonesia. (104 perished)

-- Oct 31, 1999: Egypt Air co-pilot yelling "I rely on Allah" crashed plane with 217 on board into Atlantic Ocean.

- Nov. 29, 2013, Mozambique Airlines captain believed to have deliberately crashed  plane in Namibia, 33 killed.

While these incidents are rare, in terms of general aviation statistics, they do induce dread in people because we disdain the possibility that a psycho might grab plane controls and take us on a one-way trip to perdition. The only way to prevent such events in the future is to delve into personnel backgrounds for signs of psychological  'hiccups' . No airline (or pilot)  squeamishness on this score ought to be tolerated.

No one deserves to be in the position of  an unwilling captive on a flight commandeered by a psychotic, left screaming with fellow victims in the final minutes as they approach their certain doom.  And hundreds of distraught family members left to mourn in the aftermath. We wouldn't tolerate this BS for terrorists, and we shouldn't for psycho pilots or co-pilots!

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