The AnswersThatWork Blog

Friday 3rd April 2015

Andreas Lubitz, Germanwings 4U9525, and Pragmatism

With the discovery and decryption yesterday of the second black box of the ill-fated Germanwings Flight 4U9525, the World now knows with absolute certainty that Andreas Lubitz most definitely intended to crash the plane into the French Alps, changing the face of aviation and mass transport in one horrible stroke.

If there is one thing that must happen following this tragedy, it is that the World owes the 150 people who perished in the Alps, and those who perished in previous unofficial pilot suicides, a truly radical rethinking of the security of passengers vis-à-vis suicidal pilots.

Last month, March 2015, 150 people died in the plane deliberately crashed by Andreas Lubitz.  Only a year ealier, March 2014, the Malaysian Airlines MH370 flight was flown by its pilot to run out of fuel over the Indian Ocean, killing all 239 people onboard.  Barely 4 months before, November 2013, the pilot of Mozambique Airlines flight LAM 470 deliberately crashed his plane to the ground killing all 33 people onboard, again, like Andreas Lubitz, after his co-pilot had left the cockpit.  In short, in the last 17 months, not even a year and a half, we have 3 confirmed pilot suicides taking a total of 422 passengers and crew with them.

These are shocking figures.  Barely two hours after Germanwings Flight 4U9525 had crashed, it was obvious, even to a lay person, that a flight that gradually descended for a full 8 minutes, off normal auto-pilot course, to crash into the Alps, without responding to ground control nor nearby planes, and without issuing a Mayday of their own, looked like a definite pilot suicide.  Yet at that very moment most of the news channels were parading experts telling us that "flying is still the safest mode of transport";  at the very time where everything was pointing to a suicide !  It was a shocking lack of common decency to come out, at that time, with statistics which had nothing to do with what had just been played out.  These 150 passengers and crew were not "accident statistics" — they were victims of an appalling lack of action by all airlines in the face of an increasing tendency by suicidal airline pilots to use a plane to commit suicide.  This page, from the  Flight Safety Foundation,  shows that the last 3 in-plane pilot suicides are part of a trend that is increasing, and which must be stopped.

Something should have been done way back in December 1997 after the Silk Airlines suicide, but nothing was done.  Nothing was done after the Egypt Air suicide in October 1999 and its staggering death toll of 217.  I could go on.  Why, Why was nothing done ?  If you look at the list of in-plane pilot suicides in the page from the Flight Safety Foundation, there is one common thread :  until Andreas Lubitz and Germanwings, all those in-plane pilot suicides were outside of Western Europe and North America, currently the two main driving forces behind air flight legislation.  In short, the Western World has been guilty of arrogance towards the problem — "only they do those things, using the plane to commit suicide", with "they" being Indonesians, Malaysians, Africans, Russians, South Americans, but not "us" Western Europeans and North Americans !

As I write this Andreas Lubitz should have been with us today, amongst the living, along with the other 149 passengers and crew.  He and the other 149 who perished, were let down by the Western World's arrogance about a problem, potentially deadly mental illness amongst pilots, which they thought did not affect them !

Finally, however, after Andreas Lubitz, the general thinking is changing :

  • A majority of airlines have now implemented the rule that there must at all times be two crew members in the cockpit, one a pilot.

  • Some are looking at having in-cockpit toilets so that pilots do not have to leave the cockpit to go for a toilet break.

  • Some airlines and countries are looking at changing legislation so that airline pilots are forced to be followed closely by the airline's own doctors, with those doctors able to pass on critical medical information to the airline's management when it is thought a medical condition could be a danger to passengers.

  • Many are raising the issue of the intolerable pressures on co-pilots and trainee pilots with the current trends for zero-hours contracts, or, effectively, pilots being forced to form their own companies and work "freelance".

More suggestions will be made, I am sure.

What must absolutely happen, however, is that the eventual solutions should not pander in any way whatsoever to political correctness.  Not one bit.

We are already hearing from mental illness practitioners and organizations warning about not stigmatizing mental illness, playing the moral blackmailing card in the face of so many innocent deaths !!!  This is not about stigma and stigmatisation, it is about saving lives in the face of what human beings do.

Here is an example of what human beings do.  I have a very severe auto-immune disease that is controlled by medicines.  The medicines that I take give me a "normal Life" but they are also quite toxic, so I have to have frequent checks to make sure the rest of my body is not adversely affected.  There is no permanent cure — I will have to "manage" the disease for the rest of my Life.  From time to time, when I am feeling really good, when everything seems normal, when "Life is rosy", I simply cannot help but try, without telling my doctor, to reduce the dose of medicines to see if everything will be OK and see if I can live without those toxic medicines, and see, if after all, I may just have been cured !!!.  Inevitably, after two or three weeks, the terrible effects of the auto-immune disease start appearing and I have to very quickly go back to the full dose of medicines and be very ill for a few weeks before I regain my previous "normality".  Why on earth do I behave like this ?  Why.  Well, simply because I am a human being and one characteristic of human beings is "hope".  I have known three people with mental illnesses, in each case easily controllable through medicine.  However, all of them told me of episodes where, just like me, at times where everything was going well, they decided to not take their medicine, without telling their doctors, each time with terrible consequences and, in the case of one, a temporary two-month stay in a psychiatric hospital.  In the case of another, another business person in the same business park as us, I actually witnessed the terrible effects of that person having stopped their medication.  That is what we humans do, we hope !

So, back to "political correctness" :  because of the examples above, because of what we humans do, I firmly believe that when it comes to airline pilots, when persistent or repeated mental illness is proven, with constant medication required, then the pragmatic approach has to be that those persons can no longer ever be airline pilots, regardless of whether any of the currently being talked about solutions have been implemented.  Their licence should be withdrawn and the airline should be compelled to provide retraining into another career.  Andreas Lubitz was not a monster when he decided not to take his medication — he was just another human being, he was just like me, as a human being with a pervasive and long-term illness who "hoped for a life without medication" and was trying for that life without telling his doctor.  The problem was :  with mental illness, cutting one's medication means you can be a danger to yourself and/or to other people, and for that reason alone, because all human beings try one day to live without long term medication, all human beings, because of that, Andreas Lubitz should have been retired as a pilot.  If he had been, he would be today enjoying a new life in a new job, and 149 other persons would today be enjoying the day with their friends, partners, and families.

That, my friends, is Pragmatism !


—— (TUT) SpaceMan



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