The Slatest

FAA Briefly Denied Certificate to Germanwings Crash Pilot Over Depression History

A helicopter involved in rescue work near the site of the Germanwings crash in a March photo.

Thomas Lohnes/Getty

The United States Federal Aviation Administration initially declined to issue Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz a “medical certificate” in 2010 because of concerns about his history of depression, agency documents say. A great deal of evidence indicates Lubitz intentionally crashed Flight 4U 9525 in France on March 24, killing himself and all 149 others aboard.

In 2010, Lubitz applied for a medical certificate he needed in order to participate in a Lufthansa training program in Arizona. (Lufthansa owns Germanwings.) From the New York Times:

The F.A.A. medical certification division wrote to Mr. Lubitz, saying that they were “unable to establish your eligibility to hold an airman medical certification at this time,” according to a letter dated July 8, 2010. Because of his history of depression, the agency requested a “current detailed status report from your prescribing physician.”

Mr. Lubitz was not denied the certificate outright, and was told to get back in touch with the agency within 30 days.

On July 28, 2010, his request was granted, with the warning: “Because of your history of reactive depression, operation of aircraft is prohibited at any time new symptoms or adverse changes occur or any time medication and/or treatment is required.”

It’s not precisely clear how the FAA became aware of Lubitz’s history of depression—one copy of his online application in the FAA’s documents answers “no” to a question about whether he had suffered from past mental health disorders, but another copy of the same questionnaire is marked “yes.” Current and former FAA officials suggested to the Times and CNN that Lubitz may have checked “no” before visiting an airline-affiliated medical examiner who also had access to the online form and changed the answer to “yes.”

Some reports have said Lubitz was being treated for depression at the time of this year’s crash, but a hospital where he’s reported to have sought treatment denied that he had been seen there for depression-related issues. Lubitz does not appear to have informed Lufthansa of any mental or physical health issues he may have experienced in the months before the crash.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the Germanwings crash.