German co-pilot sought treatment for eyesight, officials say – Dallas Morning News

DUSSELDORF, Germany — Andreas Lubitz, who was flying the Germanwings jetliner that slammed into a mountain in the French Alps on Tuesday, sought treatment for vision problems that may have jeopardized his ability to continue working as a pilot, two officials with knowledge of the investigation said Saturday.

The revelation of the possible trouble with his eyes added a new element to the emerging portrait of the 27-year-old German pilot, who the authorities say was also being treated for psychological issues and had hidden aspects of his medical condition from his employer. The police found antidepressants during a search of his apartment here Thursday, an official said Saturday.

It is not clear how severe his eye problems were or how they might have been related to his psychological condition. One person with knowledge of the investigation said the authorities had not ruled out the possibility that the vision problem could have been psychosomatic.

Lubitz, the co-pilot, was alone in the cockpit of the Airbus A320 jetliner on the flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, ignoring demands from the captain to be let back in, when the plane crashed. The French prosecutor in the case, drawing from cockpit voice recordings and other data about the flight, has said that Lubitz deliberately guided the plane, with another 149 people on board, into the mountains.

Since then investigators in Germany and France, airline regulators, political leaders and the families of the victims have sought answers about what might have led Lubitz to do what he did.

The information available so far about a possible motive remains sketchy, and it is not yet clear whether his apparent decision to crash the plane was triggered by a particular development in his life. Investigators and journalists continue to search for clues from every period and corner of his life, including his relationship with a longtime girlfriend and a report in a German newspaper on Saturday that another woman with whom he had a relationship had described him as unstable.

Many questions remain unanswered, if not unanswerable, including whether his decisions in the cockpit Tuesday morning were impulsive or planned.

Friends and acquaintances have repeatedly said how important flying was to Lubitz, who began piloting gliders at a flying club near his hometown at the age of 14.

Police officers searching Lubitz’s apartment here in Düsseldorf on Thursday found notes from various doctors testifying that he was too ill to work, including on the day of the crash. Prosecutors refused to comment on the illness specified in the notes. One had been torn up and thrown in the wastebasket, supporting investigators’ suspicion that he was hiding his medical problems from the airline.

It appears that Lubitz did not tell the airline about his vision concerns. The European Aviation Safety Agency has vision standards and pilots are tested every year as part of an annual medical exam, a spokesman for the agency said.

The Düsseldorf University Hospital said in a statement Friday that Lubitz had been evaluated at its clinic in February and as recently as March 10. Reached by phone Saturday, a spokeswoman would not comment on whether he had sought treatment for vision problems, citing patient privacy laws. The hospital has an eye clinic. On Friday the hospital denied speculation that Lubitz had sought treatment for depression there.

Although he was flying for a commercial airline, Lubitz was a co-pilot and not working the kind of long-haul routes he aspired to.

When Klaus Radke, president of the club where Lubitz learned to fly gliders, the Luftsportclub Westerwald, first met him, he was a typical 14-year-old who was unusual only in his wide-eyed fascination with flying, Radke said. Last fall, when Lubitz came back to the club to put in some flight hours he needed to keep his glider’s license current, Radke was impressed at the fit, by all appearances self-assured and professional pilot that Lubitz had become.

“When I saw him as an adult compared to a youth, I thought, ‘He really amounted to something,’” Radke said Saturday. “He was confident, helpful. I thought, ‘Man, he’s someone who made it.’” Radke, who said the club had received emailed death threats for helping Lubitz begin his flying career, picked up no sign last year that anything was amiss.

“I’m not a doctor,” Radke said. “For me he was normal.”

Time and again, the same adjectives pop up when people remember Lubitz. He was courteous and friendly, but reserved and not someone who drew attention to himself — thoroughly normal. The one thing that set him apart was his love of flying.

Lubitz grew up Montabaur. Detlef Adolf, manager of a Burger King there, described him as a reliable and punctual employee during the time, around 2007 or 2008, he worked part time as a cook at the restaurant. While there, Lubitz became romantically involved with a young blond-haired woman who worked at the counter, Adolf said.

His love of flying was already well known. An entry in a graduation yearbook published by Der Spiegel predicted that Lubitz would become a professional pilot. Adolf remembered how overjoyed Lubitz was when he was accepted into pilot training. “He was happy — happy that he passed,” Adolf said.

Lubitz entered Lufthansa’s flight training school in 2008, in a three-story brick building at the airport in Bremen. He continued his training in the United States at the Airline Training Center Arizona, a Lufthansa subsidiary where the year-round warm weather provides good practice conditions.

The first sign of any trouble in an otherwise promising career as a pilot came during Lubitz’s studies. Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, said this week that Lubitz had interrupted his pilot training at one point for several months for reasons it did not disclose.

Whatever the cause it was not enough to derail his career. Lubitz completed his studies, worked as a flight attendant while awaiting an open slot as a pilot, then finally began working as a co-pilot for Germanwings in 2013. He logged 630 flying hours. In his spare time he was an avid runner who competed in several half-marathons and other races.

Lubitz divided his time between his parents’ house in Montabaur, a small town about an hour’s drive from the German financial capital of Frankfurt, and a home here in Düsseldorf.

An official with knowledge of the investigation said that at the time of the crash, Lubitz was still dating his longtime girlfriend, the woman he had met while working at Burger King. The name Adolf gave as the name of the woman was written beside Lubitz’s on the mailbox at his apartment in Düsseldorf.

The German newspaper Bild published an interview with a different woman, a flight attendant who said she had dated Lubitz last year. The woman, speaking under an assumed name, described him as unstable and quoted him as saying that someday he would “do something that will change the entire system and everyone will know my name and remember it.”

Germany’s Federal Aviation Office said Friday that Lubitz had a known medical condition, although he was still permitted to fly. Carsten Spohr, Lufthansa’s chief executive, said at a news conference Thursday that Lubitz “was 100 percent flightworthy without any limitations.”

Commentators in the German news media have questioned whether the country’s strict privacy laws made it too easy for Lubitz to hide potentially serious health problems from the airline.

Referring to the break in his training and the fact that his flying license took note of medical issues, Radke of the Luftsportclub Westerwald said: “If that’s true, as a responsible employer you should ask questions. That’s my personal opinion.”

“If you’re driving a car and the oil light goes on, do you keep driving? No,” Radke said. “If no action was taken, there’s a flaw in the system.”


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