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Plane Crash Investigation; Airlines Revamp Cockpit Rules in Wake of Crash. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 27, 2015 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:06] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Unfit to work.

I'm John Berman. And this is THE LEAD.

Breaking news in our world lead: A ripped-up doctor's note found in the home of a co-pilot suspected in this week's crash reveals he may have kept an illness secret before he flew a plane packed with innocent people into a mountain.

Plus, this crash is already forcing new rules in the cockpit. Today, more airlines are following America's lead, but is that enough to keep you safe?

And why leave it up to humans at all? Technology is already out there that would let authorities in a crisis take complete remote control of a plane from the ground. Of course, what happens if that system fell into the wrong hands?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman in for Jake today.

And we begin with our world lead. And, today, yet another stunning new development about the man officials say deliberately piloted a passenger jet and the 149 other souls on board to their deaths in the French Alps.

Today, as teams in France recover the dead, investigators in Germany removed boxes of evidence from the co-pilot's home and say they found a shredded sick note pronouncing Andreas Lubitz unfit to work. It's unclear why a doctor declared the co-pilot unsuitable to fly, but what is clear is that the airline never got that sick note.

Want to get right to CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Rene, what's the latest on this note?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, John this is another shocking revelation in this story about this pilot who deliberately brought down Germanwings Flight 9525.

A German prosecutor says 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz did not leave a suicide note and no indications of political or religious motivation, but investigators made some alarming discoveries, evidence in his home that suggests he was medically unfit for work and that this pilot kept that fact a secret.


MARSH (voice-over): New video shows investigators hauling boxes of evidence from the apartment of Andreas Lubitz. While motive remains a mystery, we now know more about the 27-year-old pilot's past. A German prosecutor says Lubitz kept a medical condition a secret, an unknown illness that could have grounded him and potentially kept him off Tuesday's deadly flight.

CHRISTOPH KUMPA, DUSSELDORF PROSECUTOR: We have found a letter that indicated that he was declared by a medical doctor unfit to work, so we have reason to believe that he hid his illness.

MARSH: Medical leave notes were found ripped in the apartment, apparently never delivered to his employer, Germanwings Airline. It is unclear if Lubitz's medical condition was physical or mental, but his medical history is now in sharp focus for investigators.

JACQUELINE BRUNETTI, AVIATION MEDICAL EXAMINER: To withhold information like that is actually a grievous offense and there are fines associated with that.

MARSH: Jacqueline Brunetti is a FAA-certified aviation doctor who tests pilots for airworthiness. She says there is no perfect way to identify a pilot who is at risk, and periodic psychological testing is no silver bullet.

BRUNETTI: If you are tested one day and the next week, something happens, how do you pick that up? There's no way to monitor an airman 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

MARSH: In the U.S., a pilot must get a medical checkup from an FAA- approved physician every six months. If a pilot is unfit to fly, the doctor must notify the government.

In both the United States and Europe, pilots are grounded for a month for observation when receiving treatment from depression. If treatment is successful, pilots can fly while taking certain antidepressants.


MARSH: Investigators are also looking at his financial and personal background. There's a lot more to learn about a man friends say appeared normal.

And in another twist, Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, rushed to change its rules, now mandating two people in the cockpit at all times. Other international airlines have rushed to do the same. Of course, that has been a policy in the United States after 9/11.

BERMAN: Yes, one airline after another changing their rules around the world right now. Rene Marsh, thanks so much.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown is in Dusseldorf, Germany, where the investigation is happening right now. Pamela, you are kind of doing a deeper dive into just who this co-

pilot was. And you just saw investigators leave this apartment. They were carrying boxes of papers. How long were they inside there?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They were inside for about an hour-and-a-half, John. We are right outside of Andreas Lubitz's apartment here in Dusseldorf, Germany.

[16:05:02] These officers came in plainclothes. They were inside for about an hour-and-a-half, as I point out, and they walked out, at least one of them was carrying a big box, possibly of even more evidence. There were papers in that box. We don't know exactly what was in there, but what we do know is they made that discovery here yesterday, the ripped-up medical note that Rene talked about, among other notes that he apparently didn't share with his employer.

And we also today went to a medical clinic where he apparently visited as recently as March 10. This medical clinic, the Dusseldorf University Hospital, released a statement today saying that he had been there twice in February and in March, but that he was not treated there for depression.

The prosecutor's office today would not specify whether his illness was physical or mental, despite these media reports that he was being treated for depression. So that does still remain a mystery.

CNN has been speaking to people who knew Lubitz. We know we have a picture of him running a marathon in 2013. Those who knew him say he appeared healthy, he didn't smoke, that they are surprised that there was anything wrong. I think that people are really still reeling from this, just trying to digest what happened here -- John.

BERMAN: There's so much information coming out every day. It's almost impossible to digest it very quickly. Pamela Brown live for us in Dusseldorf, thanks so much.

Want to bring in Ken Maxwell, the former vice president of corporate security for JetBlue Airways and a former FBI counterterrorism official.

Ken, thanks so much for being with us.

Airlines today are reacting so fast right now. Lufthansa just announcing they have changed their cockpit rules to require two people in the cockpit at all times. So many other airlines across the world deciding to do this very quickly. Do they need to do more now?

KEN MAXWELL, FORMER FBI COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Well, they will look at all of the measures.

And I'm glad to hear they have adopted these rules, first of all, John. They work very effectively here in the United States. It's not 1000 percent foolproof, of course, but it does give more than a modicum of assurance, enhancing the safety and the security in the cockpit, which is a very, very high priority, to protect that cockpit at all costs. BERMAN: Yes, the idea being that a second person could be in there

watching, a second person could be in there opening the door if that's necessary. It just seems like common sense, already in place in the United States, now increasingly in places around the world.

You, of course, investigated EgyptAir. That was the crash back in 1999 where it was found that a pilot did deliberately take down that plane. That was 1999. Has enough been done since then to prevent more of this from happening, because it now happened again this week, say officials?


And when you look at the magnitude of this calamity, it cries out for further, not only scrutiny, but further measures, without being punitive. As everyone knows, in the industry, it's a voluntary system, as one of your former guests just reported, for a pilot to bring forward his illness, his mental health issue, et cetera.

We have to get together, as government authorities, the carriers, the airlines, and labor organizations to really try to come up with a better system, consistent -- I know there are a lot of challenges with HIPAA, with cultural issues, with privacy law, but, in the end, the interests of the public trump really the interests of an individual.

BERMAN: No, you can't stop everything, but maybe if you can stop something, that would be progress.

Now, there is still an investigation going on at the scene of the crash. And officials there, they still have not located the flight data recorder. We seem to be finding out so much more about this co- pilot from the investigation in Germany. What more would the flight data recorder tell us?

MAXWELL: Well, certainly, the flight data recorder that records a plethora of various maneuvers on that plane cannot only complement what was found on the cockpit voice recorder, but could also provide a lot more clarity as to the actual movements of the aircraft that fateful day.

BERMAN: And it could paint a bigger picture or fill in the blanks on exactly what Andreas Lubitz did do, if he did deliberately pilot that plane into the mountainside?

MAXWELL: Exactly, John.

BERMAN: Do you see any other possible explanation at this point?

MAXWELL: Well, you always have to leave, in any investigation, an open mind, because you do get surprises.

The worst thing that investigators could do -- and they are so good, the French and the German, at what they do -- is to maintain -- the worst thing they could do is to just focus on the mental issue. There may be some other facts. The evidence that's been taken out of the co-pilot's apartment, reviewing that in great detail may yield yet other issues that would help clarify and help solve this mystery.

BERMAN: Ken Maxwell, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

MAXWELL: You're very welcome.

BERMAN: Investigators continue to comb the French mountainside for clues in this crash, as the hunt for the second black box intensifies. Why were they able to find the first one so quickly, but still no sign of the second?

[16:10:05] Some answers next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake.

The nonstop operation to find bodies from the Germanwings plane crash, along with that one missing black box. The flight data recorder could be key in telling investigators just what the co-pilot did when they say he deliberately flew that plane into the mountainside.

Debris from Flight 9525 is scattered across rugged, remote terrain in the French Alps, crews now trying to build a road for better access to the crash site.

Nic Robertson, CNN senior international correspondent, he joins us live now from Southern France.

And, Nic, I understand there are new concerns about that crash site.


One of the first people on the crash site was -- is a local mountain guide, very familiar with the paths around there.

[16:15:02] The police came to him to help them -- help the police find their way into that crash site. He told us that the area is quite a famous area for -- for hunting, but he also told us that there are wolves in that area and vultures as well, and there will be a concern that as there is a security perimeter placed around the crash site to preserve the sort of, you know, preserve for forensic needs the nature of the crash site, there are also concerns that this is out deep in nature and there are concerns obviously that wild animals will be attracted towards the site. That's part obviously of pushing ahead to get this recovery work done as quickly as possible.

The police chief in charge of sort of the mountaineering side of the police that are helping the recovery teams told us that could be done in 10 to 15 days if the weather stays good. We do have some updates this evening. We have learned 16 of the victims have been identified by their DNA. That's happening in a lab, it's in the dark, you can't really see it right now but that's happening in a lab just behind me here. So, that's a step forward. We also know now from the head of the helicopter operations here that

on Saturday, they are actually stepping down the number of helicopters that they have been using. They have been using five on the previous couple of days. They tell us they will be going down to two helicopters on Saturday. Not entirely clear why that is, but the implication very clear, that will slow things down to a degree, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And, Nic, we did hear they were building a road to the crash site?

ROBERTSON: Yes. This is part of, you know, trying to improve the access, to try to get more people in, more material and more equipment for all the reasons. The speed of recovery, you know, can be helped if you've got more people on the ground. The weather changes, the wind today slows the operation down. The more equipment that you can bring in there to support the work, that's important.

The way these recovery teams work, it's a two-man team. One is a recovery worker, the other is a mountaineering police. The mountaineering police's job is quite literally to rope that recovery work into the mountain face and make sure they don't fall off, John.

BERMAN: Nic Robertson for us in southern France, thanks so much, Nic. I appreciate it.

I want to bring in our panel of experts: CNN safety analyst and former FAA safety inspector, David Soucie, CNN aviation analyst and former managing director of the NTSB, Peter Goelz, and CNN aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien.

And, David, let me start with you, because it was stunning in some ways that some airlines around the world did not have a two-person in the cockpit rule. That's the way it is in the United States. That is not the way it's been in other parts of the world, including across Europe.

But what's so interesting is over the last 24 hours, we have seen one airline after another after another start adopting this rule. In this world with so much bureaucracy, this is historic.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It's very historic and it's something that we as safety investigators and safety oversight agents, we have been really after hoping to see this, that the airlines wouldn't wait for the FAA to come out with a regulatory mandate to get this stuff done. So this is what we have been waiting for and it's really indicative and I'm really proud to be part of this industry right now, because for them to do this, understand this is not something that's mandated or regulated. It's something they realize needs to be done and they have stepped forward and done it.

This is the first time something has been responded to in that quick of a way and not only the airlines but also the regulatory authority, the EASA, the European aviation authority, they have also published something that says that this has to be done. It is historic. It's -- excuse me for being so emphatic about it, but it really is something that in my entire career, I have never seen and I have been really good to get it.

BERMAN: Peter Goelz, let's ask about another thing here that people say needs to be fixed and fixed quickly. Today, we learned that there was a note declaring this co-pilot unfit to work. Just yesterday, the CEO of Lufthansa told CNN that they thought he was 100 percent fit to work, fit to fly. That is a glaring, glaring discrepancy.

Is there any way to fix that so that there can't be a doctor out there and a patient out there thinking he's unfit to work and an airline putting him behind -- you know, in the cockpit?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's a very challenging issue. And the FAA and the pilots unions and the companies have been wrestling with this for a decade or more. They put in self-reporting systems that are supposed to be non-punitive, in which you say, have had fatigue, I'm tired or I have got a problem, some other issue, alcohol abuse, substance abuse programs. But pilots are not convinced that the system will not turn around and cost them their career, so that they do not report on a consistent basis on the serious issues.

[16:20:10] BERMAN: Miles O'Brien, is that reason enough not to figure out a way to fix it? Is self-reporting as it stands right now enough to detect possible issues with mental health or other kinds of health for pilots?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It is, but it goes after an issue which is a little easier to address than simply having a flight attendant walk into the cockpit when a pilot leaves the flight deck. I'm not quite as sanguine as David about this. The airlines did this because it doesn't cost them anything. They should have done it after MH370, they should have done it after Egypt Air 990, for that matter, but they haven't. There's inertia. But they did this because it doesn't cost them anything.

What about addressing some of the real issues here? The pilot pay problem in the United States. Pilots on food stamps practically and in some cases, that is the case.

What about an airline that allows a pilot in that seat with only 600 hours? That is a baby pilot. He only had 100 hours in the Airbus A320. He wasn't qualified to be in that cockpit alone for even 30 seconds. And because he was so new, he was an unknown quantity, no one knew how to review him because they didn't know him at all.

So, we should ask the airlines to increase their standards, increase their pay. We should demand this. Instead what we want is $99 from New York to L.A.

BERMAN: Peter, you want to get in on this? What Miles is saying is there is not an atmosphere of trust between the pilots and the airlines right now to begin with, let alone one that would have a pilot feel comfortable self-reporting a problem.

GOELZ: I think miles has got it right. It doesn't cost the airlines anything. But I can tell you --

SOUCIE: It didn't cost them anything before either, though, Peter, you know?

GOELZ: Right. But listen to this -- what are you expecting the flight attendant to do when she or he goes into the cockpit? Are you asking them to have an assessment taking place of the pilot's mental health now?

I mean, it's a very unfair situation. It really is a band-aid. This policy has to be looked at in a more comprehensive way and just having a cabin crew member sit in the cockpit, that was fine when they were there for just a health problem, if the pilot had it. It's not so good when you are asking that person to intervene potentially in a life-threatening situation.

BERMAN: David?

SOUCIE: Peter, maybe I misspoke then. That's not what I was saying. What the purpose of that person in the cockpit is, is the fact that that is a proven deterrent because since they put two people in the cockpit, there has been no pilot suicides in those carriers that have that. It's a deterrent.

We're not asking someone to interfere if there is something going on there. We are just saying if they are there, it's a deterrent from that type of attack.

So I agree with you, you wouldn't want to put that person in there no more than you would want the cash register guy at one of the stores to tell the guy to disarm his gun. You give him the money. That's what happens then. If it's to that point, it's too late.

What we need to do is create an environment that deters this kind of activity and having a pilot in the cockpit by himself does not deter anything.

One just last quick thing -- Miles, I appreciate what you're saying but it makes my point. It was free before to do this, they didn't do it. What I'm implying is there's a change in the culture in the airlines and the regulatory agencies to say why wait for the huge regulatory agency to make us do it, let's do it.

Yes, it's free. But nonetheless, would that have happened before? No. Even if it was free, because the change is money.

BERMAN: Miles, last word.

O'BRIEN: Well, I would celebrate the airlines the way you are, David, if they did something meaningful like in Europe, insisting that pilots have at least 1,500 hours of time and the airline transport rating to be in that seat. That is a reasonable expectation for we as the people in the back of the plane.

SOUCIE: Absolutely.

BERMAN: You know, David Soucie, Miles O'Brien, Peter Goelz, guys, fascinating discussion. Shows you how difficult it might be to change things and change things fast. Appreciate it. Coming up, it is technology that might have saved lives on this doomed

flight even after the co-pilot initiated the plane's descent, the ability to overpower the pilot's commands from the ground. The technology is there, so why isn't it being used?

Plus, the co-pilot's hometown where his friends are saying the statements being made about him just don't match up with the man they knew. We're going to go there live, ahead.


[16:28:33] BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman in for Jake.

So, following the 9/11 attacks, cockpit doors were redesigned to keep terrorists out. Now, we are seeing they can also prevent the good guys from getting in. But what if there was a third way? What if in a crisis, authorities on the ground could take complete control of a plane and land it safely?

It turns out the technology's already out there.

CNN's Tom Foreman joins us now live from the virtual room.

Tom, tell us all about it.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boeing has a patent, Google has conducted a test flight. Some of the biggest tech companies in the world are experimenting with this idea of aircraft that can be controlled from ground stations. In theory, such an airplane could not be taken over by a terrorist or by a criminal or anybody suffering any sort of disturbance.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Watch closely. This plane over England has a crew at the controls, passengers in the back, but something extraordinary is about to happen. A pilot on the ground is taking over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready to take control.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're on control.

FOREMAN: This is the $94 million ASTRAEA project by the British Aerospace Company, BAE, one of several efforts around the world to develop planes that can be flown remotely.

DUNCAN CASEY, TEST ENGINEER, BAE SYSTEMS: What you can hear at the moment is the discussion with air traffic that's exactly the same as the pilots would be having if they were in charge of the steering of the aircraft. FOREMAN: Military success with drones has driven much of the interest

and some efforts are focused on airplanes in hazard conditions, such as hurricane research and fighting wildfires.