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Terror in the Sky


Terror in the Sky

Eric Margolis

The horror of the Germanwings suicide-mass murder hits me with particular force because I went through a similar nightmare myself, and because I know very well the exact Alpine area where the doomed airliner crashed.

The passengers aboard the ill-fated German A320 aircraft must have had 3-5 minutes warning that something was terrible wrong. The aircraft’s captain was locked out of the cockpit and trying to break down its armored door. The aircraft was going into a dive.


I am surprised that the aircraft door entry designs allow something like this to happen.
The aircraft safety design procedure/process requires analysis of such scenarios in advance and I would think that the design would be such that it would not be possible to lock the valid pilot out of the cockpit since this could result in such a crash.
The transcripts published so far make no mention of the alarm that sounds when a door opening command is issued via the external keypad. Surely before taking an axe to the door, the pilot would have tried this as well as the intercom from the cabin to the cockpit. Instead all we have heard about is knocking, shouting, pounding, and finally the axe. The door does lock automatically so it is not surprising that the door was locked when the pilot returned. Although it is unlikely, what if the co-pilot had suffered a stroke? The fact that the co-pilot was completely silent tends to discount the theory that the co-pilot was trying to make a statement, although that is still certainly a good possibility.
Conclusions so far:
(1) It is poor practice to have only a single person on the flight deck.
(2) The illusion of security of reinforced secure cockpit doors can backfire. This design is a direct result of the post 9/11 thinking and the design may have been more marketing and politics than engineering.
(3) There should be a mechanism for the pilot to open the door, unless overridden by at least two people in the cockpit.


Thank you for your comments.
But what puzzles me is, if the keypad was used, then an alarm tone is supposed to sound in the cockpit to alert the crew that an entry request has been made and this has not been mentioned in the timeline or audio record.
Plus if the co-pilot overrode the unlock command (thus keeping the door locked), then that would indicate active actions by the co-pilot, but from the published reports, there was no discernible actions (other than breathing) performed by the co-pilot after the first few moments after the pilot left the cockpit.
By only releasing partial details, they are enabling the media to fuel all sorts of speculation and may actually hide what happened.


Thank you again. The Der Spiegel account is far more through than the US press.

However, there still is one glaring omission: They do mention the two alarms - decent and proximity to ground, but still there is no mention of the alarm that is issued when the keypad is used to request a door opening. That alarm would have had to have sounded before the co-pilot could have disabled the opening. While the co-pilot has the ability to override the unlock command, there is no actual report or indication that he did so.
The putting the plane into the initial decent is also not as ominous as some reports indicate. Apparently the pilot did ask the the co-pilot to prepare the plane for landing. The first step could be to gradually reduce altitude.

Just being devil’s advocate, consider the following possibility: The pilot is having financial troubles and has a large life insurance policy. If he crashes the plane, his heirs get nothing and he is labeled a monster. However if he drugs the copilot, he goes down in history as the hero who unsuccessfully tried to save 150 innocent people and his heirs collect. The co-pilot has already been tried and convicted in the press, all on hearsay testimony.

I guess I will have to wait for the official investigation to find out what really happened.