BERLIN (Reuters) - The German aviation authority did not know about co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’s medical background prior to the Germanwings crash that killed 150 people, it told Reuters on Sunday, raising more questions over medical oversight of pilots.
Lubitz, believed to have deliberately steered the plane into a mountain in the French Alps, broke off his pilot training for several months in 2009 and upon restarting informed the Lufthansa pilot training school by email he had overcome a period of severe depression.
Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, has said he passed all medical and suitability tests upon restarting training.
The Luftfahrtbundesamt (LBA), the German authority which issues pilots’ licences based on annual fit-to-fly certificates given by doctors and can impose restrictions on pilots, said it had “no information at all” prior to the crash about this period of depression.
According to European regulations, doctors should refer pilots with psychiatric conditions to the licensing authority. The regulations do not specify if this also applies to pilots who have suffered from psychiatric conditions in the past.
“Lufthansa meets its duty to provide information to the LBA,” the airline said in a statement on Sunday. It declined to comment further on the Lubitz case, citing the ongoing investigation.
Lufthansa also declined to say to whom Lubitz had sent the email in 2009 informing the flight school of the depression.
The statement from the LBA comes a day after the European Commission said its aviation regulator EASA had found “issues” with Germany’s aviation authority in a regular review of air safety enforcement.
Its statement did not say when the review was carried out. But the Wall Street Journal said the Commission told Berlin in November “to remedy the long-standing problems” - months before the Germanwings crash on March 24.
EU officials found that the LBA had a lack of staff, which could have limited its ability to carry out checks on planes and crew, including medical checks, the Journal reported, citing two people familiar with the matter.
It said it was unclear whether the deficiencies identified at LBA were factors in the crash, however.
A spokeswoman for the LBA said EASA’s audits of national aviation authorities took place several times a year. She said the LBA had answered a single-figure number of criticisms levelled at it during the audits and those responses were now being assessed by EASA.
German state prosecutors have said a computer found in Lubitz’s home revealed searches on how to commit suicide as well as on cockpit doors and safety precautions related to them.
On Sunday German newspaper Bild am Sonntag said, without naming its sources, that investigators had found Lubitz used the username “Skydevil” to log on to the computer and had recently done Internet searches on “bipolarity”, “manic depression” as well as on “migraines”, “impaired vision” and “acoustic trauma”.
The public prosecutors’ office in Duesseldorf was not available for comment when contacted by Reuters.
French air accident authority BEA has said its investigation into the Germanwings crash would study “systemic weaknesses” that might have led to the disaster, including psychological profiling.
Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; Writing by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Alison Williams and Clelia Oziel