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Investigating Germanwings Crash; Building Collapses in New York City; Co-Pilot Intentionally Locked Captain Out of Cockpit. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2015 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:11] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper.

We are following two major breaking stories this hour, all the latest on the plane crash in the French Alps and whether a co-pilot there murdered 149 innocent people, but first this, breaking news in our national lead.

You are looking at pictures from just moments ago from the East Village in Manhattan. Now we are live there. This is Second Avenue and East Seventh Street, where a building there has essentially just collapsed.

Earlier, not much more than half-an-hour ago, there apparently was some sort of explosion in this building, in this crowded neighborhood in the East Village, a multipurpose building, where you can imagine there was a restaurant at the ground level, residential, above.

Sources tell CNN that there are several people hurt. There could be people trapped inside that building. We have seen firefighters on that scene right there. There were flames flying out of that building just moments ago and then apparently, just shortly ago, that building all but collapsed.

I want to go right now to Miguel Marquez in New York.

Miguel, what can you tell us?

Miguel, we are having problems with your audio right now. But we are told it's a seven-alarm fire. And you can see just enormous numbers of firefighters on that scene dealing with the blaze. Really right now, it's just smoke. I believe those were pictures from shortly earlier. That was earlier, when you could see the building on fire.

Now the building appears to be essentially gone. You can just see the smoke rising there. We have got to fill in the gaps there into exactly when it began, whether there were people trapped inside and exactly what happened.

But there was a blast, a fire, Second Avenue and East Seventh Street in the East Village of Manhattan, less than an hour ago, firefighters now on the scene there. I'm here in Washington, D.C., watching the video of this with CNN's Tom Foreman. Tom, the East Village is a very popular area, every block crowded with

people. You can imagine people all around that area felt that blast, are really now smelling the smoke and just experiencing what is an awful event down there.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, a very quiet place. It's about halfway between Tompkins Square Park and Washington Square Park. I think the backside of the building is on St. Mark's Place.

And, yes, not just this building, but many of them around there have little restaurants, they have little bars, places where people gather, little shops, and of course, many, many people living here. I just can't imagine the shock of this on an afternoon like this.

BERMAN: It was almost exactly one year ago where in Harlem there was a building that exploded. That was a gas main leak that was called in to authorities. By the time Con-Ed got there, the building had blown up. There were several fatalities there. We are not sure exactly what happened here, but so many of these buildings, you hear the phrase pre-war building.

That means these buildings were built before World War II. They are old. The systems are old. Sometimes, you see these gas leaks. If they are not taken care of properly, it can have devastating consequences.

FOREMAN: And they are also built with materials people used back then, some of which were very flammable over the years. And they are simply embedded in the building. There's not much you can do about it.

One of the biggest things that they have to watch in cases like this, particularly in places like New York or Chicago or Philadelphia, is that the firewalls between the buildings hold up well enough to keep it from spreading and to keep it from causing structural instability in the neighboring buildings, so you don't have a problem that just keeps growing and growing and spreading to the next place.

But it seems like here that the problem is at least in that area.

BERMAN: Right. You can see the buildings to each side remain standing right now.

Miguel Marquez on the phone with us from New York, Miguel, give us some details here.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is now a seven-alarm conflagration in the East Village in New York, more than 200 firefighters, New York police and members from the Office of Emergency Management on scene. More than 30 people injured. There are concerns that others may be trapped.

This started as a gas leak which developed into an explosion and then a building collapse and then suddenly two buildings in the East Village in New York are completely engulfed in flames. Watching this unfold on live television here in New York, the one thing that came very clear is that you saw two things, the firefighters at one point pouring out of the building as that fire clearly took off. Something in that building really made that fire move.

There were two businesses down at the bottom of these two buildings. One was a french fry shop, Pommes Frites. And there may have been a lot of oil in the base of that building because they fry french fries all day. The other was -- just to the left of it was a sushi restaurant. Fortunately, it's after lunch. There may not have been too many people in that sushi restaurant.

[16:05:00] But we are already seeing individuals being carted away, taken away in ambulances. And there were early reports that some firefighters may themselves have gotten stuck in the building as well. Those do not seem to be bearing out at this point.

One other concern that firefighters seem to have was getting fire directly on those buildings from up high. They had one ladder, then two ladders there. For some time, though, the single ladder truck that was there was not able to get any water on to the top of that building as those flames were literally just kicking off the building it looked like 30 or 40 feet.

Very old buildings, a lot of tar, lot of oil on those roofs, very old roofs, and once they get going they can be very hot and very explosive themselves -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Miguel Marquez reporting from New York, where there was a gas leak, an explosion, a building collapse on Second Avenue and East Seventh in the East Village, 30-plus injuries right now reported. You can see firefighters on the scene. We are monitoring this story. We will bring you all the latest developments as they come in.

But, right now, our world lead and more breaking news. The co-pilot whom French officials now say deliberately flew a passenger jet into a French mountainside. Hours ago, a French prosecutor informed the world just what was on that audio file retrieved from the cockpit voice recorder from Germanwings Flight 9525.

The man alone at the controls, Andreas Lubitz, calm, steady, his breathing controlled, but behind the locked door, furious banging followed by screams, evidence that French authorities say indicates the co-pilot intentionally locked out the captain and deliberately crashed that plane.

Want to get right to CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Rene, these are stunning developments. The CEO of Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, sounded almost dismayed today.


And now we know about all these details. We know that alarms were blaring, warning that the aircraft was approaching land, yet the co- pilot left the plane on its path. The question tonight is why. We now know this moves beyond being an accident investigation. It's now also a criminal investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we can conclude that in all circumstances, it's deliberate.

MARSH (voice-over): Deliberate, that chilling word from a French prosecutor makes clear the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 was no accident. Both the lead investigator and the Lufthansa CEO say they believe this man, 28-year-old co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, locked the captain out of the cockpit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The captain left the cockpit for a short time and sadly could not go back. It seems to be true that the colleague who was still in the cockpit, the co-pilot, did not give the captain access.

MARSH: Investigators say, once alone, Lubitz deliberately started the descent and crashed the plane into the French Alps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're turning numbers in a window, but these numbers correspond to altitude, so you can't just brush this knob. You have to physically use your fingers.

MARSH: The plane's cockpit voice recorder revealed the co-pilot was alive up until impact, but he ignored calls from air traffic control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently, he was breathing normally. He didn't say a word from the moment that the captain or chief pilot left the cockpit.

MARSH: Investigators say they heard the captain banging on the cockpit door trying to get in. The door locks once someone leaves. A pilot can ring to reenter and the pilot inside the cockpit can press a button to open the door.

If that doesn't happen, a code can be punched in on a keypad outside the door, but the pilot in the cockpit can override that by flipping a switch to keep the door shut. There are no rules that prevent a pilot from being in the cockpit alone in Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The procedure in the U.S. is to always have at least two people in the cockpit. I agree with the safety benefits as it relates to a potential terror threat. I never once conceived that this safety aspect would be utilized for protecting passengers and crew members from another crew member.

MARSH: Perhaps most chilling, in the final seconds before slamming into a 6,000-foot mountain peak, passengers' screams are heard while the co-pilot in the cockpit remained silent.


MARSH: A number of airlines have since changed cockpit rules, requiring more than one person in the cockpit at all times, Norwegian, EasyJet, as well as Air Canada. Of course, John we expect more to follow as the pressure builds after seeing what happened in this case.

BERMAN: Yes, no doubt, those changes within 24 hours. More to come in the coming days. Rene Marsh, thanks so much.

Three Americans perished in this crash which officials say looks more and more like manslaughter. Still today, the White House insisted they see no nexus to terrorism. The co-pilot or for that matter anyone on the flight manifest, they did not trigger any red flags at preliminary check.

[16:10:04] But now that the FBI is coordinating with French authorities, could they find a different answer?

Want to bring in CNN's justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Pamela, what's happening right now with this investigation into this co-pilot?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's still very early on, but I can tell you right now, investigators are at the home of the parents of this pilot, Andreas Lubitz, investigating. They are going to look at his electronics to see, but the information that has emerged so far is only adding to the mystery.

Friends of this co-pilot who spoke to CNN say they have no explanation as to why Lubitz would have done the unthinkable and, tonight, questions are being raised about whether the airline Lubitz worked for should have done more to make sure he was psychologically fit to fly.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, investigators are digging into the background of 28-year-old German native Andreas Lubitz, the man who authorities say deliberately crashed Flight 9525 into the French Alps. The CEO of Lufthansa says Lubitz was an experienced pilot with more than 600 hours of flight experience, a good record.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He was 100 percent fit to fly without restrictions. His flight performance was perfect. There was nothing to worry about.

BROWN: Lubitz passed his initial medical screening, but the Lufthansa CEO said the airline does not do ongoing psychological testing, leaving open the possibility something could have changed after Lubitz began his job at Germanwings in 2013.

The CEO also raised questions when he said Lubitz had at one point -- quote -- "interrupted his training for several months in 2008." He wouldn't explain why, but said Lubitz eventually completed his training.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They went to the aviation school in Phoenix, Arizona. They underwent training there. There was an interruption with regard to the training and, after, then the candidate managed to go through. He continued his training.

BROWN: A pilot who was a flight club member with Lubitz said he never showed any signs anything was wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): As far as I'm concerned, I'm only say he was a very normal young man. A very normal pilot. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing at all. There were no accidents that I'm aware of, nothing, no incidents whatsoever.

BROWN: Another flight club member said Lubitz enjoyed his training.

PETER REUCKER, KNEW ANDREAS LUBITZ (through translator): He was a lot a fun, even though he was perhaps sometimes a bit quiet. He was just another boy like so many others here. He was well-integrated and I think he had a lot of fun here.

BROWN: Why he would deliberately steer Flight 9525 for nearly 10 minutes into the French Alps remains a mystery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I can't understand it. We have to wait and see for the investigation to continue.


BROWN: At this point, the FBI still in standby mode. It has been helping preliminarily, but it is still waiting to see exactly what French authorities may need as this investigation unfolds. We know investigators leading this in France and in Germany will be looking at anything Lubitz had his hands on. They will be scrutinizing his financial records, his relationships, his medical history and any political views he may have had -- John.

BERMAN: That process just beginning. Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

Want to bring in former NTSB investigator Charlie Pereira, former FAA safety inspector and CNN safety analyst David Soucie.

Gentlemen, thanks for being with us.

David, let me start with you in New York. Based on what we have heard today, that officials say they believe this co-pilot locked the door on the captain, they believe this co-pilot deliberately set a course sending this plane into the side of a mountain, do you see any other possibility than that this was done purposefully?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: There's no evidence to the contrary at this point. Really, we can speculate about what might have happened here or might have happened here, but no matter what we do, it still comes back to the fact that that co-pilot did everything he could that we know of to keep the pilot from reentering the cockpit and then descended the aircraft intentionally.

I don't see any other possibilities at this point, John.

BERMAN: All right, Charlie, you have listened to cockpit voice recorders again and again as an NTSB investigator, including some of the cockpit voice recorders I believe for the September 11 attacks.

What do you listen for in these recordings and what do you think they heard in this case which made officials so relatively certain that they know what happened here? Because they have gone pretty far out saying this was now a deliberate incident.

CHARLIE PEREIRA, FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: Well, you are first trying to develop a factual record of everything that occurred in the accident, and in this case using the cockpit voice recorder information. So they do a transcription and it would be quite noticeable or notable that somebody would be knocking on the cockpit door with no response and the airplane going through a series of descents and actions, including the final impact with the mountain.

If you don't have any conversation from the flight crew member regarding an accident or an incident or "I can't let you in," something else like that, then that would immediately imply deliberate attempt.

[16:15:00] BERMAN: So, you can hear him banging on the door. You can hear the captain banging on the door. How do you think they have determined that this co-pilot caused this plane to go on the path that put it into the mountainside?

PEREIRA: Well, from the cockpit voice recorder, there's really nothing recorded on there that would tell you exactly what buttons he was pushing, what he was doing. That's for the flight data recorder to tell us.

The air traffic control information, the radar data, does track the airplane and will tell you what the airplane was doing, but the cockpit voice recorder will give you the complete audio environment using multiple microphones. There is something called a cam, cockpit area microphone in the overhead up center that will record the general audio environment. There is also what's called a hot or boot mike on each flight crew member.

In this case, that's why they are saying he was breathing normally. They would be hearing that from his boom mike. You can hear their breathing typically. So, that's why they are making the claims that they are.

BERMAN: They could hear that very quickly.


BERMAN: David, Lufthansa's CEO today said the co-pilot had a perfect flying record, that the plane was in perfect flying condition. Yet obviously the safety net here insofar as it existed failed. So, what do you do to fix it?

SOUCIE: Well, there's a lot of things they will be looking at for a lot of years to try to fix this. But, unfortunately, unless you can reach into someone's mind and see what they're thinking, that is a difficult thing to mitigate when someone has this type of complete reversal in their type and their pattern and everything about it. You could do psychological testing, interview testing -- and I'm no

psychologist or neurologist, but I will tell you, it would be a difficult thing from the folks I have talked to about this over the years to try to do that.

BERMAN: No easy fix.

David Soucie, Charley Pereira, thanks both so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

The safety mechanism installed on all airplanes after September 11th to keep terrorists away from the controls, but the cockpit locks on this plane were also what allowed the co-pilot to keep the captain out as officials now say he flew that jet into the French Alps. So, how exactly do these locks work? We'll show you next.


[16:21:15] BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

More now on the staggering announcement from officials today that they believe the co-pilot of that crashed Germanwings Flight 9525 with 150 people on board, they say the co-pilot deliberately took that plane down. Investigators say 28-year-old Andreas Lubitz pulled it off by taking advantage of what is supposed to be a safety feature, the locked cockpit door.

Now, reinforcing doors, it was a widespread practice for airlines following the September 11th attacks. This is designed to keep non- crew members out of the cockpit. But in this case, that safety feature seemed to be used to lock out the one person who might have been able to thwart this disaster, the plane's captain.

I want to bring in CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest.

Richard, first, walk us through what these doors are supposed to do and how they are supposed to work.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Right, John. And in doing so, let me preface what you are now going to hear is talk about -- we are not going to give away any great secrets. There's going to be no great revelations. Everything is pretty much public knowledge and easily discernible.

So, what you're going to see here is the concept is to stop somebody from entering the cockpit and it's done by a system of a door-locking mechanism that in the normal position requires the pilots to grant access to the door using the keypad and also in terms of the switch. That switch is between both of the pilots. It's got a normal mode, it's got a lock mode and it's got an unlock mode. It's the use of that, the core idea is prevent anybody coming in, anybody outside the cockpit who shouldn't be in getting inside the cockpit.

And at any moment, at any moment, the captain and first officer can flick it to lock as you will see or unlock and allow access. They have control. They always have control. BERMAN: Inside the cockpit, they have control.


BERMAN: The question is, and we now see this example where apparently that man who we wanted to be in control was not in the cockpit. Any way for him to get in if he's locked outside?

QUEST: Yes, there is, because we have had cases where there have been incapacity. In that situation, there is the ability to use an override code. That override code begins a procedure with various times involved in seconds and minutes that allows somebody outside to unlock the door.

But again, John, the captain and first officer always have control. So, if somebody is overriding and they don't want to let them in, they switch it to lock and you can't enter. There's a particular waiting time before you can try again.

Now, the issue here of course was that the man who you want, the good guy, if you like, was on the outside, the bad guy was on the inside. There is almost nothing you can do in that scenario, because the idea -- what's happened here is you've got safety or you've got security which was designed to stop people getting in.

Now you've got to put security and safety on top of that to stop the good guy getting in if the bad guy's on the inside and before that, now you've got to put something else on top of that. And so, this -- what they have discovered is that the very system set up to prevent somebody getting into the cockpit has now worked against them in allowing the bad guy, if you like, to remain in the cockpit.

BERMAN: To keep this metaphor going, the question is how do you ensure there is always a good guy in the cockpit?

I want to bring John Gadzinski. He's a Boeing 737 captain.

[16:25:00] Richard, stick around, by the way.

John is also former director of safety for the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association.

And, John, a lot of airlines today, including European and Canadian Airlines, have now said they are going to require two people to be in the cockpit at all times. If someone needs to leave to go to the bathroom, someone else has to come in. That's the policy in the United States. Up until today that wasn't required policy across all of Europe.


CAPTAIN JOHN GADZINSKI, BOEING 737 PILOT: I -- there's no good reason for that. I can't think of any good reason for it.

You obviously always want somebody else in the cockpit. You'd never put something with that type of high consequence for one person by themselves to have complete control over. I mean, for years in the Cold War, if you were going to launch a nuclear missile, you never put that in the hands of one person. You always had two people to turn the key, two independent people with independent methods to turn the key. So, I think it's always a wise idea to have two people in a cockpit.

You know, it's interesting, we have had conversations in the past. There has been conversations in industry to reduce the cost of air travel to only have one person in the cockpit. I think this incident may put a damper on those financial considerations.

BERMAN: John, while we have you here, there are also questions today about the psychological screening for airline pilots. There is no policy in place to do specific psychological screening for pilots who have already been hired.

Let me ask you flat out, who is checking on you? When was the last time that someone asked you questions to make sure that you are doing OK psychologically? What's the process here?

GADZINSKI: I have never had somebody ask me how I was doing psychologically as a professional airline pilot. I think -- I think at one point in time, I go to a private doctor on top of my flight surgeon just to make sure I have -- I take care of myself and every once in awhile he will ask questions about depression or how things are going just as kind of a general health screening process. But as far as an official company or FAA or regulatory or government or private entity that does health screening, I haven't seen it. If it's there, I haven't seen it.

BERMAN: I have never been asked.

Richard Quest, is that alarming here that there is no system in place for psychological screening of airline pilots?

QUEST: I do not find it alarming. I may be alone in this respect. I think that the size and scale of the issue does not necessarily merit it. People have talked about SilkAir, Egypt Air, now this and maybe one other incident.

But to start going down the road of wholesale psychological testing of air crews worldwide, it would be a herculean task.

Now, what is in place is a reporting mechanism, a self-reporting and confidential reporting mechanism by other people that they can report if they are concerned about it. That to me seems to be a far more satisfactory solution.

Yes, there will be -- let's be clear, John -- there will be the occasion, the lone wolf, the rogue case that comes out of it. But you will not solve that, I guarantee you, with setting up some massive structure of constant psychological screening.

BERMAN: You can bet these companies --

GADZINSKI: To go along with what Richard's saying, go ahead, John -- to go along with what Richard's saying, is that, you know, I do agree that -- you know, I came from the navy. By the time a person gets to be a commercial airline pilot in the United States, there has been a very big vetting process. You have to want to be a commercial pilot and you have to have gone through several layers of proving yourself and taking check rides.

And so, by the time you get to be a commercial airline pilot, if there is something really wrong, somebody would have noticed it along the way.

BERMAN: Richard Quest, John Gadzinski, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

Coming up, that second black box, the flight data recorder, holds more clues about what the co-pilot did once the captain left the cockpit. Investigators are combing through the debris field trying to find it. Was it lost? That's next.