Other key elements in the search for answers include:
• Dusseldorf hospital confirms it treated Andreas Lubitz in February and March but not for depression
• German prosecutors say Andreas Lubitz had a sick note from a doctor on Tuesday allowing him time off but that he tore it up
• Lubitz planned spectacular gesture that would go down in history, claims ex-girlfriend
• Lubitz’ father is a devastated man
The killer co-pilot
Andreas Lubitz was the boy who grew up dreaming of flying and of one day becoming a pilot.
He went on to fulfil his ambition, but it now appears that it was at the cost of 149 innocent lives after he “deliberately” crashed the Germanwings Airbus A320 into the side of a mountain in the French Alps.
The circumstances leading up to the crash are now the subject of a police investigation.
“The co-pilot is alone at the controls,” said Brice Robin, a prosecutor in Marseilles on Wednesday, drawing on information gathered from the black box recorder. “He voluntarily refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot and voluntarily began the descent of the plane.”
Mr Robin said Lubitz had a “deliberate desire to destroy this plane. He … refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot and deliberately began the descent of the plane”.
German state prosecutors said on Thursday morning that they found evidence that Andreas Lubitz had hidden an unspecified medical condition from his employers.
“Documents with medical contents were confiscated that point towards an existing illness and corresponding treatment by doctors,” said the prosecutors’ office in Dusseldorf, where the pilot lived and where the flight from Barcelona was heading, reports Reuters.
“The fact there are sick notes saying he was unable to work, among other things, that were found torn up, which were recent and even from the day of the crime, support the assumption based on the preliminary examination that the deceased hid his illness from his employer and his professional colleagues,” they said.
The prosecutors said in a statement that the documents were found in searches of Lubitz’s homes in Duesseldorf and in the town of Montabaur in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
The Uniklinik hospital in Dusseldorf confirmed that it had treated Lubitz in recent weeks but said it was not for depression.
Meanwhile Bild, the German newspaper, reported that “Lubitz had a serious relationship crisis with his girlfriend before the disaster and the resulting heartbreak is thought to have led to this.
“Investigators are currently pursuing this line of enquiry with vigour.”
A former girlfriend of Andreas Lubitz, an air stewardess named as Maria W, 26, claimed on Saturday that Lubitz feared his illness would prevent him fulfilling his lifelong ambition of becoming a long haul pilot.
She told the German newspaper Bild: “He did it because he realised that because of his health problems his big dream of a job with Lufthansa; a job as captain and as a long haul pilot was as good as impossible.”
Maria, not her real name, added: “Whether relationship problems had anything to do with it I don’t know.”
A friend of Lubitz said: “His nickname was ‘Tomato Andi’ – a reference to his past employment as a flight steward,” adding that he worked for nearly a year for Lufthansa as a cabin attendant before being accepted for flight training.
On Sunday, it emerged that Lubitz may have been suffering from a loss in eyesight. The New York Times reported that had sought treatment at Dusseldorf University Hospital. Lubitz’s father was said to be “devastated, completely shattered” by his son’s act, according to a French official who spoke to him.
The parents of Andreas Lubitz have not spoken in public since the crash. They were questioned by French police during their stay in France and German police were due to talk them when they returned to Germany.
Bernard Bartolini, the mayor of Prads-Haute-Bléone, a small town near the site of the crash, said Lubitz’ father is is carrying on his back the entire weight of the drama. “He is a man whose life has broken down,” he said.
Mr Bartolini said he met them when they visited the crash site and attended a memorial ceremony nearby on Thursday along with families of the passengers and crew who died.
“He (the father) is a man whose life is in ruins. I felt incredibly sorry for him as he expressed all his emotion, he expressed his emotion because he has lost a loved one, but also because his son is perhaps the (cause) of all this tragedy,” he told BFM news channel.
The young Lubitz grew up in the small town of Montabaur, 20 minutes’ drive from the German city of Koblenz.
With his father a successful business executive and his mother a piano teacher his family could well afford the cost of flying lessons at his local club, Luftorts Club Westerwald.
Here he first sat in the cockpit of a light aircraft at the age of 14 and after a couple of years of instruction under dual controls was able to fly on his own.
Klaus Radker, the club’s chairman, said: “It was his dream to fly from an early age and it was a dream he began to fulfil here, so when he went on to gain his commercial licence and fly planes like the Airbus he was very happy and proud.”
Andreas Lubitz competing in a Lufthansa marathon in 2013 (Wolfgang Nass/BILD)
Mr Radker last saw Lubitz in the autumn of last year, when the Germanwings pilot returned to the club to renew his light aircraft flying licence and take part in the club’s barbecue, which he attended with a girlfriend.
Nobody at the club noticed anything strange in his demeanour.
“He seemed normal. Proud of his job after so much training. He seemed happy,” said Mr Radker. “I always found him a friendly, if very reserved, person. Open and polite.”
Lubitz left Montabaur at the age of 20 in 2007 to begin his commercial pilot’s training in the northern German city of Bremen.
It was a year into his training that he appears to have suffered the breakdown and took a break, before returning to qualify.
An investigator carries bags with items that have been collected in the house of the family of Andreas Lubitz (AP)
A mother of a schoolmate told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that he had told her daughter he had taken a break from his pilot training because he was suffering from depression.
“Apparently he had a burnout, he was in depression,” said the woman, whom the paper did not name.
She said her daughter had seen him again just before Christmas and that he had appeared normal. She added he was a “lovely boy”. “He had a good family background,” she told the paper.
By the time of the accident he was still relatively inexperienced, having notched up only 630 hours of flying time, compared to the flight’s captain, who had flown for more than 6,000 hours and had worked for Lufthansa for 10 years.
The captain was Patrick Sonderheimer, a father to two children, who had joined Germanwings in May 2014. Previously he was a pilot with Lufthansa and Condor, a Lufthansa partner airline.
Lufthansa said both pilots were trained at the Lufthansa Flight Training School in Bremen. Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa, said the two pilots trained in Phoenix, Arizona and that the co-pilot started in 2008 after waiting for eight months.
Friends express shock and surprise
Like many Mr Radker has been left stunned by what happened above the French Alps on Tuesday, and he was anxious that a full and comprehensive investigation takes place before final judgment is passed on his fellow club member.
“Both the people who died and their friends and family survived deserved that, at the very least,” he said. “I find it hard to believe that Andreas, who dreamt of flying and of being a pilot, would deliberately fly his plane into a mountain and kill all those people.
“If that is true it also means that the results of all the psychological tests he would have had to take to be a pilot were wrong.”
The 27-year-old’s parents’ neighbours in the affluent suburb on the edge of Montabaur all spoke of a polite, if not particularly gregarious, man.
Johannes Rossbach, 23, who lives two doors away from Lubitz, said he would regularly see the pilot jogging through the neighbourhood’s quiet streets.
Mr Rossbach said: “He was very polite. He would always say hello and goodbye. There certainly seemed nothing out of the ordinary about him.”
He added: “I can’t believe someone like that would kill 149 other people. It’s something that absolutely needs investigating and proving before we can believe it.”
A police officer leaves a house believed to belong to Andreas Lubitz in Montabaur (Reuters)
It was Carsten Spohr, CEO of Germanwings’ parent company, in a press conference on Thursday who first said that Lubitz “took a break in his training six years ago. Then he did the tests (technical and psychological) again. And he was deemed 100 per cent fit to fly”.
Lubitz was identified as a German citizen and Mr Robin said he was not known to have terrorism links or extremist links. The Marseille prosecutor Mr Robin added his religion was “unknown”.
Lubitz also had a flat in Dusseldorf and he was an avid runner who often took part in local races, according to public records.
In 2007, Lubitz came 72nd out of 780 participants in a 10-kilometre New Year’s week run in Montabaur, racing alongside his then 54-year-old father, Günter Lubitz, according to results posted by the organisers on its website that year.
He also ran the Lufthansa Frankfurt half-marathon in 2013, 2012 and 2011 alongside his father, finishing in times varying from just under 1 hour 49 to 1 hour 37 minutes, according to results published online.
On his Facebook profile, he said he was especially interested in the A320 and followed a pilots’ chatroom in which they discussed technical aspects and different scenarios. His Facebook page has now been removed.
The first suggestion that there was a problem between the pilot and co-pilot was when an anonymous source told the New York Times the pilot was knocking on the door to enter the cockpit but his co-pilot did not answer.
The source said: “The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer. And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer.”
The information came to light after the cockpit voice recorder – ‘black box’ – was found on Tuesday.
The voice data recorder of the Germanwings jetliner that crashed in the French Alps
According to Brice Robin, the French prosecutor, who revealed that the co-pilot crashed the plane intentionally.
We heard the captain ask the co-pilot to take control, then we hear the noise of a seat that goes back and a door open, we can assume he went to relieve himself.
The co-pilot was alone. It is at this moment that the co-pilot manipulates the buttons of the flight monitoring system to action the descent of the plane.
The action of this selectioner of altitude can only be deliberate. We hear the captain then speaks via an interphone to speak to the co-pilot, no response of co-pilot, he taps on door, no response of co-pilot, all we can hear is the sound of breathing until impact suggesting the co-pilot was alive until impact.”
The simple switch that allowed Lubitz to crash the plane
The chief executive of Lufthansa said there were no indications of abnormal behaviour in Lubitz and that there is “no system in the world” that could have predicted and prevented his actions.
“He was 100 per cent fit to fly. There was no particular thing to note or to watch out for (in him).”
He said the psychological tests carried out on their pilots by a specialised German training centre were regarded as among the best in the world.
“The co-pilot qualified as a pilot in 2008. He first worked as a steward and then became a first officer (pilot) in 2013.”
“He took a several months break for reasons I do not know. Then he had to do the test again.”
A model of a Germanwings plane is placed among flowers and lit candles in Cologne Bonn airport (REUTERS)
Peter Ruecker, a friend of Lutbitz from his home air club, LSC Westerwald, said he did not believe he was capable of such a thing” as flying was his “dream”.
“He did his flight training in the club from an early age. He was a very calm and very precise young man. He took his baccalaureate here in Montabaur,” Mr Ruecker told RTL radio.
“He was a perfectly normal young man. He was very happy with this job. He was satisfied and happy. He had achieved his dream: from an amateur pilot, he become a professional. He had no problems. I don’t believe him capable of such a thing.”
The Lubitzs’ half a million euro detached home – a large, grey roof tiled building from where their son would set out for the short journey to the flying club, set on a plateau on one of the hills surrounding hills – was treated as a potential crime scene.
On Thursday afternoon, groups of plain clothes police officers began carrying out a forensic search of the house. They also searched a flat Lubitz rented in Dusseldorf, 84 miles to the north.
Armin Pleiss, head teacher of the Mons-Tabor-Gymnasium high school where Lubitz graduated in 2007, said: “I am just as shocked and surprised as you are.”
Laura, a neighbour whose brother was in the same year as Lubitz at the high school, added:
“I didn’t know him well, but to me he seemed very private, perhaps a little bit withdrawn. But who would have guessed at something so shocking happening?”
Additional reporting by Harriet Alexander, Rory Mulholland and Justin Huggler