Days before the one-year anniversary of the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash, the final investigation report reveals doctors suggested two weeks before the disaster that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz be treated in a psychiatric hospital, French investigators said Sunday. The report suggested changes in patient confidentiality rules that currently may prevent doctors from reporting pilots’ health issues.
The report sheds more light on the questions family members and aviation authorities have been asking for nearly a year: How much did the airline know about Lubitz’s health issues, how much should it have known, and was there any way the crash could have been prevented?
On March 24, 2015, the Germanwings airbus Flight 9525 from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany, smashed into a mountainside in a remote area of the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.
The flight’s data recorder revealed that Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane after locking the pilot out of the cockpit, the 87-page report confirms.
As the investigation unfolded, more and more focus seemed to be placed on Lubitz’s physical and mental state.
The 27-year-old had been flying for Germanwings since June 2014.
Lubitz had a history of severe depression and in the five years leading up to the crash, he had received a medical waiver and consulted a total of 41 doctors — including an ENT specialist, a psychiatrist and a general practitioner, just in the previous month — according to Marseille prosecutor Brian Robin.
German police searching Lubitz’s apartment after the crash found prescription drugs to treat depression and anxiety. They also found a note in which an eye doctor diagnosed him with a psychosomatic disorder and said he was “unfit for work,” a European government official who’d been briefed on the investigation told CNN last year.
The French crash investigation agency, the Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses, indicated that a private physician diagnosed Lubitz’s vision and sleep problems as a “psychosomatic disorder and anxiety disorder,” then referred the co-pilot to a mental health specialist.
“The big problem that authorities had was that these doctors, due to the confidentially agreement with their patients they were not allowed to tell the authorities about the state of Andreas Lubitz’s mind,” said CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen. “Nor were they allowed to tell the airline about that as well.”
“No action could have been taken by the authorities and/or his employer to prevent him from flying on the day of the accident, because they were informed by neither the co-pilot himself, nor by anybody else, such as a physician, a colleague, or family member,” the report states. “In addition, the mental state of the co-pilot did not generate any concerns reported by the pilots who flew with him,” according to the report.
Authorities recognize that it is a delicate balance between protecting the patient’s private medical data and ensuring the safety of the public they serve.
French investigators have made recommendations to the European Aviation Safety Agency and European member states requesting that medical confidentiality for pilots with psychological disorders be lifted “when a patient’s health is very likely to impact public safety,” as well as suggesting more frequent medical checkups of pilots with a history of psychological trouble.
Additional measures to help support pilots from economic and professional backlash were also noted in the final report.
Airlines are looking at this report to see how incidents like the Germanwings crash can be prevented in the future.