Germanwings co-pilot practiced descents on previous flights

Andreas Lubitz set the plane into descent mode five times in a four and a half-minute period during a flight from Duesseldorf to Barcelona

The co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 4525 appeared to practice a controlled descent on his previous flight, two hours before he crashed the A320 jet into a mountainside in March, French air accident investigators said Wednesday.

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz set the plane into descent mode five times in a four and a half-minute period during a flight from Duesseldorf to Barcelona, then brought it back up again on a flight, the BEA investigation agency said in an interim report on the crash.

Prosecutors have previously said Lubitz intentionally locked the pilot out of the cockpit and crashed the plane on its return flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf in the French Alps on March 24, killing all 150 people on board.

Wednesday’s 30-page report said the pilot appeared to have left the cockpit during the earlier flight as well.

The report showed that the pilot left the cockpit on the Duesseldorf-Barcelona flight for about 4 1/2 minutes. Shortly after the pilot left, the “selected altitude” of the flight changed repeatedly, including several times as low as 100 feet (30 metres).

A chart released by the BEA showed the plane didn’t descend sharply during this period, suggesting that passengers and crew might not have noticed any change.

It would be highly unusual for a pilot to repeatedly set a plane for such a low altitude for no apparent reason.

Image by Eivind Mikkelsen

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Transcontinental Media G.P.