Social Question

JLeslie's avatar

Is the US media getting the German pilot story wrong?

Asked by JLeslie (60165points) April 1st, 2015 from iPhone

As you know a German pilot committed a suicide/multiple homicide by crashing a commercial flight. It’s now come to light that he had a serious bout of depression not too many years ago while in flight school. When he returned to his training he disclosed he had been depressed and that is why there was a disruption in his flight school education.

Many people in the American media are saying he should have not been hired as a pilot with his psychiatric history. Should people who have been depressed not be allowed to ever be pilots and other professions? What about doctors, bus drivers, train conductors, military, and other jobs that you can serious harm a lot of people? If we forbid people who have been depressed from these careers altogether then will young people avoid getting help? So many teens go through depression, will parents be afraid of their children having a psychiatric record?

When I worked in rehab pilots were allowed to go back to flying after drying out and jumping through some hoops. Is that any different than going through a bout of depression?

I also thought maybe Germans might think about the whole thing differently than Americans. That there might be cultural differences.

How is the story being reported in your country and what is your opinion?

Did Lufthansa not read the report the pilot had handed in? Or, had they read it and thought it fine to still allow him to fly?

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50 Answers

ucme's avatar

When investigators searched his home they found a torn up sick note, he shouldn’t have been in that plane on that day.
The fact is, although he clearly suffered from a mental illness, he lied, he was devious & manipulative, he murdered those passengers.

JLeslie's avatar

@ucme I don’t excuse his actions in any way. I didn’t know about the lies or other manipulations. I’m wondering about how much we should blame Lufthansa. Not necessarily in a legal sense, the legal is beyond what I am thinking about, but rather what the average person thinks in regards to the airline’s responsibility.

Misspegasister28's avatar

Some people are able to get along just fine with depression, and for the most part, it doesn’t interfere with their work. But if they knew he was suicidal then I think they should have done something about it and tried to get him some help.

canidmajor's avatar

The stress the media has put on the “depression” aspect I feel is misleading and stigmatizing. People who are depressed don’t commit mass murders because of that. People who are mass murderers may also be depressed, and don’t let the probability of their own deaths deter them.

I can’t link to stats, but I remember reading that most suicides (of course not all) are planned to occur in such a way to cause the least collateral damage.

It’s like blaming Columbine, Sandy Hook and 911 on depression because the perpetrators technically suicided as a result of their actions.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

That wasn’t just depression. He wanted to go out in a way that would be “remembered”. That’s a psychopath. He took a lot of people with him.

ragingloli's avatar

You have to admire the guy for planning this so thoroughly and then executing his plan flawlessly. A true credit to the German Species. German Efficiency™ at its finest.

Silence04's avatar

@canidmajor my thoughts exactly.

trailsillustrated's avatar

Just a thought- flying an aircraft in mountainous terrain is stressful. I’m sorry but when I read he only had 640 something hours I thought it was a typo. Maybe it was the last straw.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Besides killing 149 others, he did a big disservice to those suffering and recovering from depression. Rules will be put in place to prevent this – further infringing upon their rights to privacy and be productive citizens.
For example:
1) The Doctor’s office must immediately send a “No-fly” medical report to the employer as well as the patient.
2) Patients treated for depression will not have second level access to certain controls.
3) Airplanes will have remote releases controlled by the ground.
4) An EPIRB like device will be activated by X number of crew members alerting the ground to take over.
5) Stricter background checks that would normally violate rules of privacy.
6) Aircraft autopilot will prevent flight below a certain elevations in certain regions. The next generation commercial UAVs already have this.

Every one of these has problems but something will be done.

Silence04's avatar

@trailsillustrated from what I understand, the stressful part of being a commercial airlines pilot is maneuvering on the runway during pre or post flight. Everything else is mostly automated, including flight path, and you are given a lot of guidance otherwise.

trailsillustrated's avatar

That sort of terrain, you have to be super vigilant, weather even at 10 metres can be rough. But yeah. They said he showed no signs of being a mass murderer but I guess some of them don’t.

ucme's avatar

He’s not the first pilot to flip & take out his passengers & probably won’t be the last, but the new measures citing at least two crew must remain in the cockpit at any given time during the flight, may just help.
Some tragedies come right out of nowhere, blaming the airline is probably counter productive.

LuckyGuy's avatar

7) And, installation of condom catheters.

ibstubro's avatar

My only news on the subject has come from NPR, and has been very even handed.

I know that the pilot had been treated for depression, and that the depression included suicidal thoughts. Apparently, the depression had never surfaced as aggression toward others.

I’ve watched America struggle with the ‘dirty little secret’ of depression since (as a Missourian) I watched Thomas Eagleton withdraw his name from the McGovern presidential ticket.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Which is preferable?

An airplane that just disappears? (like the Malaysian flight last year)


An airplane that is intentionally crashed by a depressed pilot?

janbb's avatar

@elbanditoroso There is no “preferable” about it.

(And I’m flying today. hip. hip, hooray.)

rojo's avatar

I think of this as more of a psychotic episode rather than just a depressive one.

I hate to see people with depression stigmatized any more than they are already. As pointed out earlier, not everyone who is depressed kills. I don’t know about other countries but here in the US there is a definite social stigma to depression with such people viewed as being defective because they lack control of their emotions.

Pure speculation here but perhaps this is similar to what happened to the Air Malaysia flight 370.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that people who have been suicidal should not be allowed to fly planes. I don’t think this is “stigmatizing”, and I don’t believe in slippery slope arguments. No one is going to round up depressed people and put them into camps.

Common sense should not be thrown out the window in our effort to be nice to people with mental illness. There is a reason certain jobs come with psych evaluations.

rojo's avatar

As for the media getting the story wrong, I think they have done what they normally do, just gloss over anything that would require thoughtful, investigative journalistic work and pick the juicy bits that garner higher ratings.

When our news became entertainment, we lost out.

janbb's avatar

^^ I agree with that statement in general but I think “the media” has been somewhat more restrained in this case, letting the story unfold over time and not rushing to conclusions about terrorism, etc.

ibstubro's avatar

People who have been suicidal should not fly planes.
People who have been suicidal should not drive buses.
People who have been suicidal should not drive taxis.
People who have been suicidal should not drive, period.

Nope. Nothing slippery about that slope!

Common sense tells us that once you feel like a nut, you’re always a nut.
Mental illness isn’t curable, after all!~

rojo's avatar

I concur @janbb. I was surprised that the standard go to response of the news channels, that is to label any news story involving murder as terrorism, did not happen. This was such a rare occurrence that I actually noticed it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

^ Although watching the pilot pounding on the door for 4 minutes yelling “Open the door. For gods sake open the door” as the plane descended and the mountains drew closer and closer, could arguably count as being pretty darned terrifying.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

The only time the media labels anything as terrorism, is when it fits the narrative of being Muslim.
A good example would be Joe Stack, who flew a plane into an IRS building a few years back. I don’t think the words terrorism were even mumbled by the media.

ragingloli's avatar

Or Anders Breivik, who shot up a norwegian youth camp filled with children.

“Mass Murder”, “Massacre”, but for some reason, not “terrorism”.

dappled_leaves's avatar


“People who have been suicidal should not fly planes.
People who have been suicidal should not drive buses.
People who have been suicidal should not drive taxis.
People who have been suicidal should not drive, period.

Nope. Nothing slippery about that slope!”

It makes a nice story, but this would simply not happen. Pilots already have to pass a psych test to fly. There is no such test for driving a car, and no one has suggested that there should be one.

fluthernutter's avatar

@dappled_leaves There should be one.

My sister is schizophrenic. She has delusions and hears voices. And the DMV renewed her license without so much as a blink. It scares the crap out of me that she can legally drive a car. And it should scare every other person out there too.

She had a 5150 put on her for throwing water bottles at my other sister while she was driving and trying to open her door while they were on the freeway. But putting her in the driver seat is okay. Hmmmm…

She’s not even that severe of a case. Her doctor just cut her meds to a half dose.

DominicY's avatar

I don’t think that “he’s been depressed before” is enough reason to not hire someone for a job like that. However, I think that at the time of the job, there should be a psychiatric evaluation. People who are suicidal should not be flying. But being suicidal and “having been depressed in the past” are not the same thing.

JLeslie's avatar

@fluthermutter You would think a doctor would or should notify the DMV.

In FL you can call the DMV anonymously and have their license taken away. I don’t know if they do it for mental illness, but the service is mainly for the elderly so the children don’t need to tell their parent they have to stop driving.

whitenoise's avatar

We should seriously consider to get rid of pilots.

Even then humans with wrong intents may find ways… Like hacking flight control.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The “latest and greatest” commercial quad-copters have a built in database of airport locations and protected airspace to prevent the copter from flying in those zones. They can be had for $1200.
It would not be difficult to have similar flight information loaded into the planes autopilot that maps the ground terrain in the area of regulated flight routes. The pilot may not command the plane to move outside of the safe route unless a remote override is sent from the control tower. or a second pilot enters a password. Flying outside of the lane will immediately set off alarms in nearby planes and control towers.

The entire northern hemisphere is already mapped in one of the high end simulators. All the info fits on a 12 TB hard drive.
It’s coming.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@LuckyGuy You may be right about that, particularly since we are now being groomed to accept the idea of self-driving cars.

I wonder what the mechanics are of encountering another plane in one’s flight path – I’m sure the plane could automatically detect such an obstacle, but could it successfully navigate around it given unknown turbulence conditions?

In fact, turbulence in general might pose a big problem for auto-control of planes. As passengers, we tend to think of it as no big deal, but it is common, unpredictable by nature and requires the pilot’s attention.

whitenoise's avatar

Most modern airliners already have that technology on board.

It is called TCAS and basically it tells pilots what to do if it sees an aircraft on a trajectory to collide. The transponders of the two aircraft will agree on what escape route to take. Pilots are more or less obliged to do what TCAS tells them.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@whitenoise I understand that, I’m talking about letting the aircraft make the choice all by itself. Not something that would be done today.

whitenoise's avatar

Pilots are not allowed to deviate from the route advise given by TCAS. TCAS trumps AIr Traffic Control, for instance.

For all intents and purposes the system might as well be hardwired to the airframe’s control.

dappled_leaves's avatar

A wonder that we even have pilots, then.

No, seriously – we have many systems that automate the process of flying a plane, but it is not nearly the same thing as having no need for a pilot. Right now, it is not even close.

ibstubro's avatar

How, then, @whitenoise, did the German pilot fly the plane into the mountain?
Genuine interest, BTW.

whitenoise's avatar

Because the mountain didn’t have a transponder…

Currently we have pilots in our aircraft. They can override pretty much any system in the cockpit. I would advocate the development of unmanned aircraft as an alternative to the ones with pilots. As written above, there will still be a risk, but that can be managed better than the human factor, I feel.

Flying an aircraft is relatively simple and the (economic) efficiency of the aircraft could be improved enormously. No need for windows in the front, for instance. No double flight crews needed. No crews that go out of time and need to be replaced. No hotels needed.

So far the pilots are making sure no airline will even discuss the option… they would ground the fleet immediately. Also the public thinks pilots add something to their benefit.

Another of these pilot induced incidents, however, and people would be more that happy to say goodbye to the pilots.

ibstubro's avatar

Thanks, @whitenoise. I got it…lost track of the fact that you were only speaking of aircraft-to-aircraft collisions there for a bit.

whitenoise's avatar

To get back to the question at hand though…

Yes of course the media are getting things wrong. We should all know the name of the captain of this flight. Instead we now all know the name of the asshole that flew the aircraft into the mountain.

Captain Patrick Sondheimer. That’s the pilot’s name we want to remember,

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

▲ so true @whitenoise. Given the Co – pilot wanted people to remember his name, I refuse to use it or commit it to memory.

Interesting suggestions regarding the possibility of unpiloted cockpits. I suspect human distrust on the part of passengers will prevent this happening in the near future. There was a question here not so long ago about whether people would trust acompletely automated car. Most people weren’t comfortable with the idea. Personally, I think we’d have much fewer road accidents.

ragingloli's avatar

Andreas Lubitz was the copilot’s name.
Andreas Lubitz.



Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

Aka fuckwit murderer. I’ll stick with that name.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I like fuckwit murderer. I want to use that too.

ragingloli's avatar

He makes Cho Seung Hui, Anders Breivik and that guy that cleansed Ford Hood look like amateurs. And he did not need to fire a single shot.

JLeslie's avatar

I thought sometimes when planes get too close to each other pilots sometimes say they have the other plane on visual and that’s how they steer clear.

Also, remember how the wreckage from the Malaysian airline that went down couldn’t be found because it was outside of radar range? I assume that means that ground control can’t always be controlling a plane?

LuckyGuy's avatar

@JLeslie They can control the plane if they add capability to any one of the several LEO sat networks that completely cover the globe now. Iridium, the old, slow ,but super reliable system, is still in operation and running at a few % of capacity. That would be my first choice since it is already set up for easy, two-way links.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@ragingloli I agree with you. The Nitwitz managed to wipe out a good part of one of Germany’s Josef Konig Gymnasium’s 10th grade class (age 15 -16) and a couple of teachers without firing a shot. Not bad. Had he used a gun, depending upon his aim, it would have cost between $15 – 30 for the ammo.
On the other hand, the plane cost $70–100 million so one could argue he was more than a tad wasteful.

On the other, other hand, Airbus in Germany and France will need to employ about 500 workers, for one year to replace the aircraft. That will boost the economy and increase Airbus competitiveness in the industry.

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