Return to Transcripts main page


French Prosecutor: Crash Deliberate; Lufthansa CEO Speaks at News Conference. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 26, 2015 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR: That a co-pilot cannot be alone in the cockpit.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. And that's absolutely true. And I do believe that there are most certainly going to be changes that Lufthansa is going to make. But this is really something -- and I've been thinking a lot about this -- this is really something that really hits Lufthansa in its mark because one of the things that Lufthansa has always been known for has that it's been a pilot's airline.

I was actually -- had the privilege a couple of years ago, Anderson, of flying along on a Lufthansa cargo flight and speaking to some of the pilots there. We flew from Senegal all the way to Brazil. And they said that Lufthansa is actually a great airline for them to fly for. They say there's a lot of things that they get to do that might not be common in other airline organizations. They say, for instance, Lufthansa pilots go and do simulated trainings four times a year. I think the legal requirement is two times a year. So they do pride themselves on pilots that know what they're doing, that are well trained.

And at the same time, of course, we also know that there has been a degree of unhappiness with the Lufthansa pilots, especially with the labor dispute that they've had with the company over the past, I would say, two years or so as it's been trying to cost cut. So this has always been an airline that has prided itself on the professionalism, on the training of its pilots. And so this is something that really hits very, very, I won't say close to home, but really hits it right in one of its major sort of strengths that it always had.

COOPER: Fred, we'll check back in with you after this press conference. The press conference anticipated to take place really any moment. We expect to hear from leaders at Lufthansa, as well as Germanwings.

I'm back with our Richard Quest and David Soucie.

David, in terms of the investigation, how do things now change given what we've now learned?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It's just become criminal. In a standard aircraft investigation, it's not a criminal investigation, so, therefore, there can be information put out. There's standard for -- parameters for that. When you're in the criminal realm, it all shuts down because all of that has to be necessary in order to prosecute whoever's committed the crime or to find out if there's some other criminal activity that lead to the activity (INAUDIBLE). we get these leaks (INAUDIBLE) obviously take care -- very careful.

COOPER: Also, in a normal investigation in which criminal activity is not anticipated, would the pilots be the subject of such intense scrutiny at this stage?

SOUCIE: Yes, they would be, actually. The pilots are the first thing in any accident that gets checked. In fact, even after the accident, we have toxicology samples that are taken from the pilot's bodies to determine their state of chemistry in their bodies. So they're definitely the first thing we look at it in an accident investigation when it's an operational type event like this.

COOPER: Obviously for the family members, this also changes the calculus. It changes the perception of this. Also for even from a legal standpoint, from an airline responsibility standpoint, does this change things?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: We don't really know what the responsibility. And in any event, to a certain extent, it's all in the Montreal Convention, and it's all in terms of litigation and in terms of liability. It was an international flight, Barcelona to Dusseldorf, so there's specific rules apply for that. But, yes, it will -- this changes everything because of -- this is -- the (INAUDIBLE) for CEO of Lufthansa.

COOPER: Let's listen to the press conference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The French authorities gave us some information. I welcome the Captain Schoer (ph), Thomas Winkelmann, Germanwings CEO, and also Carsten Spohr, Lufthanasa chief executive.

CARSTEN SPOHR, CEO, LUFTHANSA AIRLINES (through translator): Ladies and gentlemen, after the voice recorder was analyzed, of our tragic flight Germanwings Flight 9525, we had quite a turn in information. We from Lufthansa are speechless that this aircraft has been deliberately crashed by the copilot.

Recordings of the voice recorder show that the captain has left the cockpit just for a short time in the beginning and sadly could not go back. It seems to be true that the colleague who was still in the cockpit, the copilot, did not give the captain access again in order to activate the fatal descent in the Alps.

This makes us speechless, we here at Lufthansa, Germanwings.

[09:35:02] I can only repeat what I've said for the last days. We are shocked. We are in dismay. And I actually could not have imagined that this is even getting worse, which happened after I was told what apparently happened on the plane. And I think I do not only talk for myself. In our worst nightmare, we could not have imagined that such a tragedy took place within our company. Those who watch us in the field, we know -- know that we choose our cockpit personnel very carefully, because it's part of our DNA that we have qualified personnel. And when we choose our candidates, we don't only look for technical skills but in particular we look for psychologically healthy coworkers. We cooperate with the German Society for Air Research and the DNA test for -- is worldwide known. It is a well-recognized instrument to find qualified cockpit personnel and is the leading procedure worldwide. And we are proud we have this procedure in place.

What happened here was something we could not imagine. Both pilots, of course, did their tests. And then afterwards, they went to the aviation school Bremen, then Phoenix in Arizona. They underwent training there. The copilot started his training in 2008. After his training, he had quite -- he had an 1,100 waiting time, which is quite normal. He worked as a flight attendant for us during his waiting time, and he worked as a copilot since 2013 for us.

Six years ago, it was like this. There was an interruption with regard to the training. And after, then, the candidate managed to go through, he continued his training. He then also passed all medical tests, all flight examinations, and all checks. He was 100 percent set to fly without restrictions. His flight performance was perfect. There was nothing to worry about.

In a company like ours, where we are quite proud and really value quality and qualifications, it is especially for us a shock for like for everybody and the public. Just a couple of hours after these findings, we can only speculate about motives. We have no findings at all with regard to why the copilot did that, what made him do it.

And consciously, I would like to express that this is really a horrible event for our company for a long time. And I continue to fully trust our pilots. They are in a difficult situation. They are and remain the best ones in the world. And that's what we believe in Lufthansa. They are a very important part of our brand.

What happened here is a tragic individual event, and I would like to emphasize this. We stand jointly together and are united with the relatives, friends, and victims, and I probably can say with millions of people. It is a mystery and we are deeply saddened. I think it will take time for us to understand what happened. But we are all professionals and we do everything possible to clarify this situation, to investigate.

[09:40:03] And as I said two days ago, our teams are in France and we focus on this.

It doesn't matter what kind of safety measures you have, how important security and safety is -- and we do have high standards. But a single case like this cannot be excluded by any system you have.

I would like to say something personally. I worked for Lufthansa as an engineer, as a pilot. For many years now, I am within the leadership for Lufthansa. And wherever I worked, safety, security, was number one. That this really happens to us, we so very much regret it.

Many thanks.

I would be grateful if you speak up when you ask your questions.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE). You say there is no way of preventing an accident like this. But was there no procedure by which the pilot, the captain, could've entered the cockpit door by perhaps entering a code that overrides the locking system?

SPOHR (through translator): Yes. Well, in our industry, we also are aware of the terrible events on 11 September and that's why we changed the procedure. And I will just mention something about that and then somebody else can also say something about that, Because I've been in the cockpit for some time.

Doors now are very much secured for the cockpit in order to prevent some people entering the cockpit. So even if you have small weapons, you cannot force entry. If one of the pilots leaves the cockpit, then it's possible to ring at the outside and the pilot can have a look and see who wishes to enter the cockpit. If it's the colleague or another crew member, then there's a button and you can open the electronically secured door.

We, of course, have procedures that in case a pilot has left the cockpit and another -- the pilot inside is unconscious, then you have a further code that can be used on the door. And this leads also to a ringing sound. And if this buzzing sound, nobody opens the door after this buzzing sound, then electrically, the door is automatically opened. But the pilot inside the cockpit can prevent this in order to keep the door shut. So that is possible from the inside.

We do not wish to speculate. So either the captain who tried to get into the cockpit did not use this code, because we all pilots know about this code and that is our procedure, or the colleague has entered this code, and the colleague in the cockpit put the lever on lock and prevented the door electronically to be opened. So we don't know yet; we need to wait for the analysis.

QUESTION (through translator): You just mentioned that the copilot interrupted his training six years ago. For how long did he interrupt it? And to why, for several months, he interrupted his training?

SPOHR (through translator): And this is not uncommon. And for the reasons -- actually, about the reasons, I can't give you any information. I said somebody who interrupts his or her training, they have to be tested so that they are seen fit and that happened there.

[09:45:07] QUESTION (through translator): You mentioned that the training was interrupted and could that have been to do something with the psychological or mental or medical tests?

SPOHR (through translator): Well, if that was for medical reasons, then we know that this kind of information is treated as confidential. But this will, of course, be part of the investigation on the part of the public prosecution to investigate this. But, of course, I do not have this information and cannot pass this information on.

QUESTION (through translator): Reuters. (INAUDIBLE). After completion of training, are there any more discussions? Any more tests to look for everything being fine?

SPOHR (through translator): Regularly, we do have tests, examinations, and once a year, we have a medical test. We do not have psychological tests. But, of course, we look for management options and then also if it is about incapacity of the captain. If that could happen, then we of course do have preparation for that as well. But an explicit test for that, we do not have, and that is not required by the ministry either.

QUESTION (through translator): People are mourning. (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

SPOHR (through translator): Flying is the safest mode of transport. And during the last couple of years, it's actually gotten more safe. Lufthansa has one of the best safety records. Over 100,000 flights we have every year. And this is why I can only say that Lufthansa focuses on safety and security and we continue with that. Maybe feelings have changed now, but Lufthansa still focuses on this.

QUESTION (through translator): You just mentioned that it seems that the copilot deliberately caused the crash. Do you have any clues? Or can you exclude anything to other matters?

SPOHR (through translator): No, I can only agree with the federal minister who talked about this. We, as the employer of this young person, do not have any clues.

QUESTION (through translator): Second question. The pilot left the cockpit. Are there any procedures what has to happen within the cockpit if another person, a crew member, comes into the cockpit?

SPOHR (through translator): No, we do not have this kind of procedure. Worldwide, there are a few airlines who have a certain procedure, but in Europe or big airlines, we do not have a procedure.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) ABC News. Can you go into more detail about the mental health screening processes? Do you do psychological tests? Do you interview family, friends, acquaintances? And in this case, what did you find out about the copilot?

SPOHR (through translator): As I mentioned in the beginning, for decades, we have an appropriate selection procedure for our candidates. After that, this candidate is being watched during training, and then also later in the aircraft. But there are, I think, no interviews of friends or others.

[09:50:00] I don't think that exists.

QUESTION: Can you tell me about the license status of the pilot? (INAUDIBLE) pilot license? And did you have to have a (INAUDIBLE) number of hours before this was (INAUDIBLE). Cantell us what his status was? And then the second question, was the pilot (INAUDIBLE). Was there anything that he did that he shouldn't have at this point in the flight? Thank you.

SPOHR (through translator): No, obviously, within Lufthansa and also Germanwings has a procedure that it is permitted for a pilot to leave the cockpit to go to the lavatory or other reasons. And this is also explained during training. And of course the pilots should only leave the cockpit if stress is quite low, and this is what the pilot did. He waited for the aircraft to reach a certain height, flight level, and of course there was license and he was a first officer and he had a license to fly A320 airbus.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) conversation between the copilot and the pilot, just before the pilot left?

SPOHR (through translator): I can only repeat what the French public prosecutor said. There was a technical briefing about the course of the flight; they talked about it and then the captain left the cockpit. And then it was said you have control. And then, of course, the pilot could leave the cockpit. That was the voice recordings, the information we have.

QUESTION (through translator): It seems you assume that the copilot committed suicide. Why are you so sure? Was it, sir, that the copilot when there was emergency training that something happened? Why do you think?

SPOHR (through translator): I can only repeat what the French public prosecutor said. We need to assume now that the flight -- descent flight was done deliberately and wait for more information.


SPOHR (through translator): Crews and flight attendants do receive help, psychological help, if they wish to receive that.

QUESTION (through translator): Was there anything conspicuous for this copilot during his training apart from the interruptions?

SPOHR (through translator): I'm not aware of anything else. And if there is an interruption of training, then, of course, we will test the fitness. Whatever the reason was for that, that reason will be examined again and I cannot say anything else. And if fitness has been established, then candidates will continue their training, and that happened six years ago.

QUESTION (through translator): Will this incident have any consequences to the training now?

SPOHR (through translator): I would like to repeat what I said at the beginning. I believe in this individual case, this tragedy. We all trust the selection procedure and the training we have.

[09;55:04] Pilot training is very important for our company, and we should not doubt our system now. Of course, we will talk to experts in-house and also with experts from the aviation organization and also traffic organizations and the ministry. And I also talked to the cockpit association and we, of course, will consider what can we improve when we select candidates and how can we improve training, but that does not change my principal trust in Lufthansa's training for decades.

QUESTION (through translator): Was there anything conspicuous on the inbound flight?

SPOHR (through translator): No, I'm not aware of that. I do not know if there are any details about that. We have to follow it up. Thank you.


SPOHR (through translator): Yesterday, we of course mentioned we will give financial support to relatives, and that was said in Barcelona and Dusseldorf, so that we facilitate this as quickly as possible, that we can give support. For traffic organizations, of course, there are international agreements we have to abide by, but I can say we aren't worried about that. Lufthansa is a stable organization and we will help.

We do not want to make this public, but of course the situation is as such that financially we will be able to continue. The relatives will receive some moneys, and we are at this moment in time doing this.

QUESTION (through translator): If anything conspicuous come up, will this have to be reported, about colleagues?

SPOHR (through translator): Well, it depends on the special circumstances, but if something like this happens, of course it has to be described and reported. We do have the obligation to report this. If anything is special about flights, if something special happens, then it has to be reported.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) Are there regulations where a flight attendant has to be in the cockpit if a pilot has to have a bathroom break or goes to get a coffee?

SPOHR: (INAUDIBLE) coming from the U.S. But only a small number of airlines in Europe, as far as I know, no. But airline at all, for sure none of the big airlines we work with.

QUESTION: Are you going to do that in the future?

SPOHR: I don't see any need to change our procedures. This (INAUDIBLE) has been a single occasion. But as I mentioned before in German, we will get together with the various experts in the Lufthansa group airlines, in the authorities, with our German government to see if our procedures can be refined. But I think we should not now jump into short-notice activities. We rather should refrain from that and make analysis first.

QUESTION: So you're confident in the pilots?

SPOHR: I wish you understood my German because I've said twice, and I'll repeat it in English -- without any doubt. My firm confidence in the selection of our pilots, in the training of our pilots, in the qualification of our pilots, and the work of our pilots has not been touched by this single tragedy. .

QUESTION: Sir, could you explain for us in English what -- could you just explain for us in English one more time.

[10:00:00] If the Minister of the Interior has ruled out the likelihood of terrorism as a motive, is Germanwings, is Lufthansa saying this is probably suicide?