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French Prosecutor Points Toward Co-Pilot's Actions In Jet's Crash


Let's hear more of what a French prosecutor said about the crash of a German jet. The Germanwings plane went down in the Alps two days ago. All 150 people aboard were killed. The prosecutor is pointing toward acts of a pilot. And NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is following the story from Paris. Eleanor, what is the prosecutor saying exactly?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. Well, he went this morning - a blow-by-blow account of the last minutes of that flight. And he said - the Marseille prosecutor - that it was a normal flight, a normal conversation between the pilot and the co-pilot. They reached cruising altitude. Everything was fine. And then at that point, you hear the pilot's chair slide back, and he asks the co-pilot to take over, and you hear the door open, presumably to go to the restroom.

At that point, the door shuts and the prosecutor said that you hear the automatic pilot being taken off and that a switch being turned that starts the plane's descent. Now, he emphasized that this switch cannot be hit by accident or done involuntarily. It involves turning a knob many, many times. So the plane started to go into descent. At this point, the pilot knocks back on the door, identifies himself because since September 11, there's a system of, you know, doors where you have to have a code and identify yourself to get in.



BEARDSLEY: He does that. The pilot doesn't let him in. In fact, we never hear anything for the cockpit again, said the prosecutor. Repeatedly, the Marseille control tower calls, asking to put the signal on for a plane in peril. We hear nothing. There's calls from other airplanes. We hear nothing. The altitude alarms go off. We hear nothing. At this point, you hear the pilot screaming and slamming on the door. The only thing we hear from inside the cockpit is the steady breathing of the co-pilot. So they know he's still alive until the plane crashes into the mountain.

INSKEEP: Eleanor, you've given us in that timeline some new details that I at least had not heard before. It's not just that there was silence from the cockpit. We'd known that in recent hours. You're saying that there seems to have been, according to the prosecutor, anyway, a positive act by the pilot who remained in the cockpit to disconnect the autopilot and begin taking that plane down. That's what the prosecutor says?

BEARDSLEY: That is exactly what he says.

INSKEEP: OK. Was there any way, as far as the prosecutor knows, that that door could have been opened? Isn't there some kind of emergency code that can be entered on a keypad in order to get through that door?

BEARDSLEY: Yes. There are three positions that the door can go in since 9/11 - open, locked with authority from the inside. But apparently, there's a third position that if the pilot doesn't want to open it, it cannot be opened. And so that's the position it was when. And and that says all I know about that door for the moment.

INSKEEP: OK. So we have a few seconds left here, Eleanor. Is there anything else we're learning from this French prosecutor? And where do things go from here?

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely. Now of course, everyone is looking at who was this co-pilot. He's a 28-year-old. His name is Andreas Lubitz. He's German. He only has been with the company a couple months, we believe. And he has hundreds of hours of flying time - not that many. The prosecutor says they don't think it's terrorism. There's no sign to point to that. But it was definitely - seems to be a voluntary action on the part of this co-pilot to bring that plane down.

INSKEEP: Eleanor, thanks for the update.

BEARDSLEY: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reporting today on the latest on the Germanwings plane crash this week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.