F.A.A. Raised Questions About Andreas Lubitz’s Depression Before Germanwings Crash
By NICHOLAS KULISH and NICOLA CLARKAPRIL 29, 2015
The Federal Aviation Administration raised questions in 2010 about whether it should grant a pilot’s license in the United States to Andreas Lubitz, who in March flew a Germanwings jetliner into a French mountainside, but was assured by his doctors in Germany that he had fully recovered from an episode of depression the year before, according to newly released documents.
The release of the information, in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from news organizations, helps to fill in gaps in the timeline of Mr. Lubitz’s illness and treatment, and shows that the authorities in the United States were aware at the time that he had suffered from psychiatric problems.
According to the documents made public by the aviation administration, Mr. Lubitz was treated from January 2009 to that October with at least two drugs, Cipralex and mirtazapine. During that period, he was on leave from Lufthansa’s pilot-training school, a program that normally lasts around two years and included a period of several months at a Lufthansa-owned center in Arizona where he would learn to fly small planes.
Ultimately the agency decided that Mr. Lubitz could travel to the United States and continue his training, but warned him that he would be prohibited from flying if his depression recurred.
There is also evidence suggesting that Mr. Lubitz might have tried to mislead the F.A.A. about his treatment, initially marking “no” in response to a question on whether he had ever been treated for mental disorders on a form dated June 2010. Referring to a question number on the form, the file notes, “changed from N to Y.”
“Why he didn’t check yes, I don’t know,”’ said Dr. Warren S. Silberman, the former manager of aerospace medical certification for the aviation administration whose office reviewed Mr. Lubitz’s application for a United States medical certificate.
“He cannot leave it blank. It won’t transmit,” he said. “I would have advised him to check yes.” Dr. Silberman said Mr. Lubitz’s online application form appeared to have been changed after the fact by a Lufthansa doctor to reflect the treatment he had received.
Germany’s strict privacy laws have frustrated efforts to understand how Mr. Lubitz became a pilot despite the severe depressive episode and how his increasingly troubled behavior in the months leading up to the crash raised no alarms at Germanwings or its parent company, Lufthansa.
French prosecutors say that Mr. Lubitz, 27, intentionally flew the Airbus A320 bound from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany, with 149 other people on board, into a mountain range on March 24.
An avid glider pilot as a teenager, he was accepted into Lufthansa’s highly selective flight academy in 2008. Records show that a Lufthansa flight doctor examined him that April and gave him a clean bill of health; the only condition noted was a tonsillectomy.
Yet just six months later, he had been diagnosed with “reactive depression” — a disorder triggered by stressful or traumatic events. “In the case of Mr. Lubitz, modified living conditions caused the onset of a depressive episode,” according to an account provided to the aviation administration by his doctor in Germany. By January 2009, though, he was undergoing treatment with psychotherapy and antidepressant drugs, the documents say. The known timeline of Mr. Lubitz’s career suggests this was after his move to Lufthansa’s flight school campus in Bremen, Germany, from his parents’ home in the small town of Montabaur.
Timeline: Key Moments in Pilot’s Mental Health History
The name of the psychologist who treated him in Germany was redacted, but the psychologist was described as specializing in psychotherapy “for children and juveniles.” Mr. Lubitz’s “high motivation and active participation contributed to the successful completion of the treatment, after the management of the symptoms,” a document provided to the F.A.A. said.
In addition to psychotherapy Mr. Lubitz was treated with Cipralex, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, and mirtazapine, a drug used to treat major depressive disorders. According to the documents, Mr. Lubitz’s use of the medication had been “tapered” by July 2009. The treatment “enabled him to develop the sufficient resources for getting on with similar situations in the future,” one document said.
Lufthansa has said that Mr. Lubitz sent an email after his treatment in 2009 seeking reinstatement to its flight-training program, acknowledging that he had suffered from severe depression. Lufthansa put him back through its standard applicant-screening process and medical tests.
To advance through the Lufthansa program Mr. Lubitz had to complete his flight-training in Arizona. At a flight school near Phoenix young pilots make their first real flights in single-engine aircraft, a prerequisite for continuing to the next phase of the Lufthansa training program.
July 10, 2009, Document Released by F.A.A.
A document marked as a certified translation from the German detailing Andreas Lubitz’s mental health diagnosis.
But before he could begin the Arizona program, Mr. Lubitz needed a student pilot’s license as well as a valid medical certificate from a flight doctor.
The F.A.A. medical certification division wrote to Mr. Lubitz, saying that they were “unable to establish your eligibility to hold an airman medical certification at this time,” according to a letter dated July 8, 2010. Because of his history of depression, the agency requested a “current detailed status report from your prescribing physician.”
Mr. Lubitz was not denied the certificate outright, and was told to get back in touch with the agency within 30 days.
On July 28, 2010, his request was granted, with the warning: “Because of your history of reactive depression, operation of aircraft is prohibited at any time new symptoms or adverse changes occur or any time medication and/or treatment is required.”
Mr. Lubitz’s diagnosis, according to a document marked as a certified translation from the German, was “severe depressive episode without psychotic symptoms in complete remission.” The statement calls him “completely recovered, there is not any residuum remained.”
Ultimately Mr. Lubitz received his third-class medical certificate from the F.A.A. and was allowed to continue his training, receive his pilot’s license and ultimately secure a job as a co-pilot for Germanwings.
A version of this article appears in print on April 30, 2015, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Agency Raised Questions on Germanwings Pilot’s Fitness to Fly. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
Der Artikel vom 30. April 2015 in der NEW York Times und Kopien einiger Originaldokumente betreffend den Schriftverkehr zwischen Der amerikanischen Flugaufsichtsbehörde (welche die Pilotenlizenz für seine Ausbildung in Phoenix ausstellen musste) und den behandelnden Ärzten.
Augenscheinlich wurde eine Art „Wunderheilung“ durch einen deutschen Psychologen attestiert. In jedem Fall haben die Amerikaner klar vermerkt, dass eine erneute psychologische Erkrankung zu sofortigem Lizenzentzug führt. Der Lufthansa war dies bekannt. Man hätte hier engmaschige und regelmäßige Kontrollen durchführen „müssen“.
Wurden diese Kontrollen nicht zeitnah durchgeführt, so liegt eine Unterlassung und ein Organisationsverschulden vor, der strafrechtliche Folgen der betreffenden Personen nach sich ziehen kann.