(NBC NEWS) – The co-pilot of the crashed Germanwings plane appears to have “intentionally” forced the jet into a descent while his captain was locked out of the cockpit, prosecutors said Thursday.
First Officer Andreas Lubitz, 28, was alone at the controls of the Airbus A320 as it began its rapid descent, Marseille Prosecutor Brice Robin told a news conference.
“Banging” sounds were heard on the crashed plane’s cockpit voice recorder, Brice said, suggesting the captain was trying to regain entry to the flight deck.
However, the reinforced cockpit door was locked from the inside and could not be overridden, even with a coded entry panel. “If he had been able to open this door, the captain would have done it,” Brice said.
Lubitz “didn’t say a word” during the descent, he added. “There was no reason to put the plane into a descent, nor to not respond to… air traffic controllers.”
“Was it suicide? I’m not using the word, I don’t know. Given the information I have at this time … I can tell you that he deliberately made possible the loss of altitude of the aircraft.”
The current interpretation, Brice added, is that the co-pilot had “a desire to destroy this plane.”
However, there was nothing to indicate a terrorist connection, he said.
Germanwings’ parent company Lufthansa earlier said Lubitz joined Germanwings in September 2013, directly after training, and had flown 630 hours.
His captain was an “experienced” pilot, with more than 10 years’ experience with the organization and more than 6,000 flight hours on the Airbus model.
Many airlines, especially U.S. carriers, have a flight attendant come into the flight deck if a pilot leaves, for example during a bathroom break.
While Lufthansa earlier Thursday would not comment on its cockpit security procedures, it said it followed rules set out by German authorities that allow temporary absence from the flight deck.
Former pilots and aviation experts told NBC News that most planes have coded entry door controls, but these can be overridden with a double lock — a practice implemented industry-wide after the 9/11 attacks.
“The cockpit has the ultimate control of the door,” said former pilot Captain John Cox. “If it is placed in the override mode then no matter what is done with the code pad, the door will remain locked. The security people were very firm on the need for the flight deck to remain the ultimate authority.”
“It’s likely that an airline like Lufthansa will have fitted the highest specification of security technology,” said David Gleave, an aviation safety investigator based at Loughborough University near Leicester, England.
“These reinforced doors are designed to be very strong — they can’t be smashed open. That’s the point of them.”
Robin said that families of the victims had been informed of the investigations’ developments. His remarks to the press came as relatives of the 150 victims of Tuesday’s crash were aboard special flights bringing them to the crash site.