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'Candour needed on pilots' mental health': crash probe

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A tribute to the victims of the March 24 Germanwings Airbus A320 crash in the village of Le Vernet, southeastern France. Photo: AFP
12:22 CET+01:00
The French probe into the Germanwings plane crashed into a mountainside by the co-pilot said Sunday "clearer rules" are required on when medical confidentiality can be lifted if pilots are found to have psychological issues.

"Clearer rules are needed to establish when it is necessary to lift medical confidentiality," investigator Arnaud Desjardins said at the launch of the report.

The report found that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had been urged to attend psychiatric hospital just weeks before he crashed the plane in March last year, but his employer had not been informed.

The French probe into the crash of the plane deliberately flown into a mountain by the co-pilot also recommended more stringent medical checks for pilots in its conclusions published on Sunday.

BEA civil aviation investigators also agreed with their earlier findings that the crash in the French Alps a year ago with the loss of 150 lives was caused by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who had been treated for depression.

As a result of the Germanwings crash a year ago -- in which 150 people travelling between Barcelona and Duesseldorf died -- European aviation authorities have already recommended making it compulsory to have two people in the cockpit at any time during flights.

Some countries are opposed to the measure, however, with Germany's pilots' union believing it poses "risks that outweigh any supposed improvements in security".

In the fateful flight on March 24th, 2015, co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked the pilot out of the cockpit. Ten minutes later the Airbus 320 ploughed into a mountain hillside, killing all 144 passengers and six crew.

It emerged that Lubitz had been suffering from depression and had seen dozens of doctors in the years preceding the crash.

But under German law none was able to alert his employers to his state of mind and he was allowed to continue flying.

On the black box voice recorder recovered at the crash scene, all that is heard from Lubitz is regular breathing. He gave no words of explanation for his murderous course of action.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has already recommended stepping up medical testing for pilots, including more psychological tests.

BEA chief Remi Jouty said the French investigation had sought to identify the "systematic failures which led to this accident". The investigators had also looked at the "balance between medical secrecy and flight security".

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The dead included 72 Germans, among them a group of 16 high school students, and 50 Spaniards.

A German lawyer for some of the families of the dead said this month they intended to sue the training school in Phoenix, Arizona, which Lubitz attended, claiming it should have flagged up his psychological problems.

"The co-pilot interrupted his training there for a while due to psychological problems," lawyer Christof Wellens said. "He shouldn't have been allowed to resume his training."

Germanwings' parent company Lufthansa has paid €50,000 ($56,000) per victim in an initial payment and offered an additional 25,000 euros to each of the families plus €10,000 to each immediate relative including parents, children and spouse.

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