Plane crashes caused deliberately by pilots or co-pilots (killing crew members and passengers onboard) are nothing unheard of or unprecedented. In most cases, such plane crashes are referred to as suicides, suspected suicides or murder suicide. People who commit suicides usually do it alone; then should we term such incidents as suicides or homicides?
According to a report by Federal Aviation Administration (national aviation authority of the United States of America), out of the last 2,758 fatal aviation accidents between 2003 and 2012, eight accidents have been suicides (as they call it). In these eight accidents, all pilots guilty were males with median age of 46 years. It’s worth noting that almost all of these pilots tested positive for either alcohol or antidepressants.
In such a scenario, and with the recent Germanwings flight meeting an accident, allegedly due to co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, it is worth jumping back in history to learn about some of the accidents where pilots have been guilty of deliberately crashing passenger planes.
24 March, 2015
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Germanwings flight 4U 9524 crashed in the French Alps and all passengers and crew members onboard lost their lives. Two days post the accident the world was sent into a shock with sudden realization that it wasn’t a mechanical failure, but the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz on the Airbus A320 was the prime suspect for the accident. Allegedly, it was a deliberate attempt by Lubitz to destroy the plane – the flight was intentionally brought down by the co-pilot.
The cockpit voice records (as the incident unfolded) confirm that Lubitz was alive and breathing while the plane descended. Lubitz had locked the pilot outside the cockpit when he had gone out to use the washroom. As the plane descended, the pilot was desperately banging on the cockpit door to be allowed back in and passengers onboard were crying out in despair.
Initial investigation proves that Lubitz was suffering from depression, with doctors recording “suicidal tendencies.” He was forced into a several month break from his pilot training in 2009 because of severe depression. Lubitz joined Germanwings, a Lufthansa subsidiary, in 2013. Lufthansa said it was unaware of the depression issues that faced Lubitz, and added that he had passed medical tests to be cleared for flying.
31 October, 1999
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On the fateful day, an EgyptAir flight Tuthmosis III en route from New York to Cairo crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 km from Nantucket. According to investigations, the (co-pilot) Relief First Officer, Al-Batouti had intentionally brought down the plane, killing 217 passengers and crew members onboard. Investigations prove that it was a deliberate act since such aircraft movement, as recorded by the Tuthmosis III flight data recorder, are not possible due to mechanical failure.
It is believed that Al-Batouty had been previously reprimanded for sexual misconduct. His executive, who was onboard the Tuthmosis III, had told Al-Batouty that he would no longer be allowed to fly US routes again.
19 December, 1997
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All 104 people onboard were killed when the Silk Air flight from Indonesia to Singapore crashed after a quick descent. Indonesian authorities and US NTSB undertook the investigation of the accident. While there was no official reason cited by the Indonesian authorities for the crash, the US NTSB concluded that the accident may have been deliberately carried out by the captain after manipulating the flight controls.
It’s believed that the captain had been facing work-related and financial difficulties, which could have been the reason behind his suicidal act.
21 August, 1994
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Royal Air Maroc ATR-42 plane took off from Agadir, Morocco to Casablanca, and crashed into the Atlas Mountains at Douar Izounine, claiming all 44 lives aboard. The incident is believed to have been caused deliberately by the pilot Younes Khayati, who disconnected the autopilot and directed the plane on a rapid descent.
29 November, 2013
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When the LAM Flight 470 entered in rapid downward track en route Maputo and Luanda, it crashed in Namibia killing all 33 passengers and crew members onboard. The incident that led to the fatal accident was very similar to the Germanwings crash. The LAM Mozambique Airlines flight is believed to have been put deliberately on a rapid descent by the captain when he managed to lock the pilot outside the cockpit (leaving the pilot pounding desperately on the door).
Mozambican Civil Aviation Institute in its investigation report informed that Captain Herminio dos Santos Fernandes had clear intentions of crashing the plane.
9 February, 1982
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Japan Airlines Flight 350, a McDonnell Douglas DC-8-61 was a domestic flight en route from Fukuoka to Tokyo, Japan. Just before its final approach to Haneda Airport, the pilot, Seiji Katagiri cancelled the autopilot and left the plane to crash. The co-pilot tried to regain control but it proved too late, and the plane crashed killing 24 aboard (150 survived the crash).
Investigations brought to light that Seiji Katagiri had previously suffered psychosomatic disorder (some form of metal aberration), a reason that kept him off flying for a year from 1980-81.
All aviation agencies require pilots to undergo medical examination annually (six months for aged pilots). In addition to medical examination, the pilots have to undergo psychological assessment, but not everywhere do they have official mental health exams.