Friends say Germanwings co-pilot 'just a normal bloke'
ANDREAS Lubitz was a minor flying ace: physically fit, bright and well-liked. He did not make mistakes.
Piloting his Airbus A320 towards the side of a mountain for more than 11 minutes, as crew members banged on the locked cockpit door, he didn't make a sound. Apparently calm, he was breathing normally until the end.
He started gliding at the age of 14 and became a member of the local flying club, LSC Westerwald, near his home town of Montabaur, in Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany. He obtained his flying licence there.
Klaus Radke, chairman of Westerwald, said it had been Lubitz's dream to become a Lufthansa pilot. "It seems impossible that he did this," he said. "We are speechless."
The 28-year-old was, as Mr Radke said, a "completely normal guy". In the autumn he had returned to his flying club for a refresher course. "I got to know him, or I should say, reacquainted with him, as a very nice, fun and polite young man," Mr Radke said.
He often returned to stay with his parents in Montabaur, a small town of 12,000 near Frankfurt, although he had a flat in Düsseldorf.
The flat was being searched by German police. The curtains were drawn and four police cars were parked outside the white house in Montabaur where his parents live.
A neighbour, Hans-Juergen Krause, said he was "really shocked".
Another Montabaur resident who knew Lubitz told RTL radio: "He was completely normal. He was very happy to have his job… He had attained his dream of having become a professional pilot. He had no problems. I did not think he could do such a thing."
Another neighbour recalled to The Rhein-Zeitung newspaper "how often we saw him jogging past our house".
By his mid-20s Lubitz had graduated to flying passenger jets and had for 630 hours flown the Airbus without serious incident. His training began in 2008 and included a period in Bremen and in Arizona.
Lufthansa, the Germanwings parent company, said his flying abilities were exemplary although he broke off his training for six months for "medical reasons" that were not fully explained.
It did not elaborate, citing "medizinische Schweigeplicht" (medical confidentiality).
A woman who went to the same school as Lubitz told the Frankfurter Allegemeine that he had a "burnout six years ago" but had appeared healthy at Christmas.
Lufthansa's chairman, Carsten Spohr, told a press conference in Cologne that Lubitz had undergone normal training and medical tests and that nothing had led the company to suspect he was ill-suited for the job.
Authorities added that he had no known links to terror groups. "We can only speculate what caused the co-pilot to do this," Mr Spohr said.
"I can only say that somebody who deliberately takes himself and 149 others to their deaths is guilty of more than just suicide."
He had been working as co-pilot, or first officer, since 2013. Rhein-Zeitung published an online message a male friend had sent to Lubitz after the crash. It read: "We only talked yesterday... Every day you made me smile."
Lubitz outwardly appeared to be average, interested in pop music, nightclubs and sharing pictures of himself on Facebook.
"I'm just speechless. I don't have any explanation for this. Knowing Andreas, this is just inconceivable for me," said Peter Ruecker, a long-time member of the flying club. "He had a lot of friends; he wasn't a loner."
Armin Pleiss, headteacher of the Mons-Tabor-Gymnasium high school, where Lubitz graduated in 2007, told Reuters: "I am just as shocked and surprised as you are."
A recently deleted Facebook page bearing Lubitz's name showed him as a smiling man in a dark brown jacket posing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in California.
His likes included flying and gadgets as well as electronic music and ten-pin bowling.
Much of Lubitz's social life appears to have taken place in the nearby city of Koblenz.
There are links to a climbing wall, Kletterwald Sayn, a bowling alley, Pinup, and one of Koblenz's nightclubs, the Agostea Nachtarena. And to a branch of Burger King.
On the website of the flying club he joined aged 14, a tribute to him read: "We will not forget Andreas." Neither will anyone else.