Saturday, March 12, 2016

Doctor Wanted Germanwings Co-Pilot to Be Hospitalized: Pilot’s doctors didn’t inform authorities out of fear of breaching Germany’s privacy laws

The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor
Updated March 11, 2016 9:26 p.m. ET

Two weeks before a Germanwings co-pilot intentionally crashed a jet into the French Alps in March 2015, a doctor recommended psychiatric hospitalization but didn’t alert authorities out of fear of breaching Germany’s strict privacy laws, according to a draft of the final report by air-safety investigators.

Investigators are expected to recommend that such privacy laws both in Germany and across Europe need to be reassessed by aviation authorities in cases where a “threat to public safety” should trump medical confidentiality.

The final report, scheduled to be released Sunday by France’s Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses, is also expected to call for enhanced screening of commercial pilots with previously diagnosed psychiatric problems.

The draft also includes recommendations to encourage European pilots to voluntarily report mental-health issues, seek psychiatric help and allow them to continue flying while taking antidepressants. The measures are meant to address criticism that aviators often fear they will be punished if they admit to psychiatric problems, as well as foster peer-pilot support groups.

The 87-page draft was written late last year but is believed to closely match the final version, according to three people familiar with the details.

The twin-engine Airbus 320 was en route to Düsseldorf from Barcelona on March 24 when Andreas Lubitz, the 27-year-old co-pilot, deliberately steered the jet into a remote mountain range, killing all 150 people on board.

A BEA spokeswoman declined to address the investigation’s findings ahead of the final report’s publication. Investigators are scheduled to brief families of the victims Friday and Saturday.

Germanwings is the low-fare unit of a Deutsche Lufthansa AG. Spokeswomen for Lufthansa weren’t immediately available to comment.

The draft provides few new specifics about the crash itself, which sparked a world-wide debate about how to screen pilots for psychological problems, provide help to those who need it and keep potentially suicidal pilots out of cockpits.

The document details how Mr. Lubitz’s private physician, who worried his patient was psychotic, and a psychiatrist who also treated the pilot—and prescribed antidepressants just eight days before the crash—“were probably aware” of his profession.

Yet the health-care providers, who aren’t identified in the draft, failed to inform “any aviation authority” or government agency “about the co-pilot’s mental state.”

German doctors operate under some of the world’s strictest patient privacy laws carrying stiff criminal penalties, though they are allowed to breach that confidentiality in cases of “imminent danger” to the public.

Despite treating Mr. Lubitz for several weeks while recognizing his deteriorating condition, the doctors perceived that warning authorities about hazards to the flying public presented “more risks, in particular for themselves, than not reporting the co-pilot,” according to the draft report.

The fatal sequence of actions—beginning with Mr. Lubitz’s putting the plane into a nose dive about 30 seconds after the captain left for a bathroom break—were laid out in a preliminary report in May. The cockpit voice recording ended roughly 10 minutes later, following sounds of violent blows on the locked cockpit door and automated calls of “pull up, pull up” from collision-warning devices.

At the time, investigators also officially confirmed that Mr. Lubitz years earlier had halted his flight training for nine months due to depression. But he was cleared to resume training by a Lufthansa-affiliated medical organization, passed all of his subsequent pilot proficiency and medical exams without any problems, and eventually was hired by Germanwings in 2013.

The latest report goes further in detailing the extent of the illness when it returned, the various physicians Mr. Lubitz sought for help and how Germany’s nearly ironclad privacy restrictions allowed him to conceal his condition from regulators, airline officials and fellow pilots.

According to the report, Mr. Lubitz began “a severe depressive episode without psychotic symptoms” starting from August 2008, when he was already undergoing basic pilot training. But he exhibited suicidal tendencies and was hospitalized, it said.

In July 2009, his psychiatrist determined that the would-be airline pilot “had fully recovered” after treatment, and Lufthansa’s Aero-Medical Center two weeks later issued him a conditional medical certificate with the proviso that “it would become invalid if there is a relapse.”

Each year after that, the same Lufthansa organization renewed or revalidated his medical certificate with those same conditions.

But in November 2014, a private physician put Mr. Lubitz on sick leave for a week. The next month, the draft indicates, he saw “various private physicians” for complaints about vision problems and sleep disorders. Several eye specialists “all came to the conclusion that there was no organic reason” and the vision issues appeared to be psychosomatic, according to the report.

By the middle of February 2015, the draft notes, Mr. Lubitz was undergoing treatment for “anxiety disorder” and had been referred to a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. He was out on sick leave for three days.

On March 10, a private physician referred him “for psychiatric hospitalization due to a possible psychosis.” Later that month, he went on sick leave and returned to work two days before the crash.

According to the draft, Mr. Lubitz never informed or sought help from aviation medical experts or Germanwings officials. Mr. Lubitz’s relatives declined to be interviewed by investigators, according to the draft.

The document concludes that at the time of the crash Mr. Lubitz was “still suffering from what was likely to be a psychotic depression and was taking medication” and receiving treatment his superiors knew nothing about.

Original article can be found here:

NTSB Identification: DCA15WA093
Accident occurred Tuesday, March 24, 2015 in Barcellonette, France
Aircraft: AIRBUS INDUSTRIE A320-211, registration:
Injuries: 150 Fatal.

The foreign authority was the source of this information.

The BEA of France has notified the NTSB of an accident involving a Airbus A320-211 airplane that occurred on March 24, 2015. The NTSB has appointed a U.S. Accredited Representative to assist the BEA's investigation under the provisions of ICAO Annex 13 as the State of Manufacturer and Design of the engines.

All investigative information will be released by the BEA-FR.

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