Germanwings families back call to report mental health issues affecting air crew


Lawyers for the families of British victims killed in the Germanwings air crash have welcomed calls for new rules on reporting pilot mental health issues.

Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf crashed in the French Alps on March 24 last year, killing 150 people including three Britons.

French investigators have urged new world rules requiring medical professionals to warn authorities when a pilot's mental health could threaten public safety.

An earlier report found evidence suggesting co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who had previously been treated for depression, deliberately downed the plane after locking the pilot out of the cockpit.

The air accident bureau BEA has now published its final report on the crash almost one year on, looking at issues including cockpit safety, psychological testing of pilots and how mental health issues are handled.

Lawyers for the families said it was concerning that issues experienced by Lubitz, who had seen 41 doctors in recent years and been referred to a psychiatric clinic a fortnight before the crash, had not been communicated from doctors to the airline or authorities.

Jim Morris, specialist aviation lawyer at Irwin Mitchell which represents British and Spanish families affected by the crash, said: "We need clear and consistent guidelines in Europe and internationally on where the threat to public safety outweighs medical confidentiality for pilots - so the BEA safety recommendations are welcomed."

The Britons killed were Paul Bramley, a 28-year-old from Hull who was studying hospitality and hotel management at Cesar Ritz College in Lucerne and was about to start an internship, Martyn Matthews, a 50-year-old father-of-two from Wolverhampton who worked as a senior quality manager, and seven-month-old Julian Pracz-Bandres, from Manchester who had been travelling with his mother, Spanish-born Marina Bandres Lopez-Belio, 37.

Traces of anti-depressants and sleeping medication were found in Lubitz's system.

The BEA said because Lubitz had not informed anyone about the doctors' warnings, "no action could have been taken by the authorities or his employer to prevent him from flying".

The situation here in the UK is different, said British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) general secretary Jim McAuslan, who said there is not the same level of medical confidentiality as there is elsewhere.

Arnaud Desjardin, who led the BEA investigation, said at a press briefing as the report was delivered in Le Bourget on Sunday, that experts found the co-pilot's symptoms at that time "could be compatible with a psychotic episode", but this information had not been communicated to Germanwings.

He said guidelines are needed on the balance between patient privacy and a possible threat to public safety, describing the situation in Germany as particularly strict.

He said: "I think clearer rules are needed to preserve public security."

Mr McAuslan said: "This is, I think, more of a German recommendation than a UK recommendation. And it seems to us that the UK system is appropriate with lots of checks and balances," he said.

He added: "The report overall, we think, is pretty balanced."

In a statement Balpa said it would look at the report's findings and support "any recommendation that could help prevent a tragedy like this in future".

Voice recorder evidence has shown Lubitz locked the captain out of the cockpit and put the Airbus A320 into a continual descent before it crashed into a mountain.

Evidence showed the captain tried to break down the door after being locked out.

Cockpit door security was strengthened on passenger planes after the 9/11 attacks in the US, with a code system installed to prevent people getting in.

BEA investigators did not recommend changing cockpit rules with Mr Desjardin saying there could be no locking system to prevent threats from both inside and outside the cockpit.

Investigators also stopped short of calling for systematic psychological tests to be carried out on pilots every year, with Mr Desjardin describing these as "neither effective nor beneficial".

But they called for measures to reassure pilots who have a fear they could lose their job if they report mental health issues.

Mr Morris raised concerns that a lack of "extensive psychiatric evaluation of all pilots" could run the risk that a pilot who hides a mental illness could slip through the net.

Lawyer Clive Garner added: "It is obviously a very difficult time for the families as we approach the anniversary and they are still upset and angry at what happened. Nothing can bring their loved ones back but they want to know that something like this can never happen again."