Return to Transcripts main page


Was the Crime Premeditated?; Should Healthcare Professionals Report Illness?; Can Passengers Electronic Data Be Recovered?; Was 9/11 Safety Precaution A Flaw?; Crews Battling Tough Terrain at Crash Site. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 28, 2015 - 18:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish. Welcome to the program.

By now you have heard all about the tragedy of Germanwings Flight 9525, I've been watching the coverage on CNN closely all week. And I have some particular questions that haven't been answered.

So today I've invited several experts to get those answers that I think we're all looking for, among the things that I want to know, was this crime premeditated? In other words how could Andreas Lubitz have known that the captain would have to go and use the bathroom giving him time to change the flight course. Did he make his terrible decision in the spur of a moment?

Another question, even though this airplane was in the words of investigators shredded like confetti is there a way to retrieve the texts, the e-mails, the videos that passengers likely took and wrote in those last terrible minutes?

Here's one more. What's the duty of a mental health professional to report on a troubled pilot? Our experts are here to break it down but first, to the very latest of what's happening right now on the ground. CNN's Frederick Pleitgen is in Germany with more.

Fred, I know that the "Bild" newspaper has spoken to a former girlfriend. What is she saying?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she's saying that she was together with Andreas Lubitz for about five months last year. She said or she described him as a very sensitive man, someone who need a lot of care, a lot of attention, someone who could also be quite flattering. She was an airline stewardess herself on Germanwings as well but she also said that he was someone who had a very dark side. Someone who at night would wake up because he was having bad dreams, someone who would go into rages when they had fights who apparently locked himself in the bathroom once for an extended period of time.

She says ultimately the reason why they split up was because she was starting to become afraid of him and she also said that it was clear to her that he had some sort of psychological problems but it was certainly something that she said that he was trying to hide because, of course, he'd always had this big dream of being a pilot and he didn't want it destroyed by the fact that he had these health issues. Michael.

SMERCONISH: A gliding acquaintance says that Lubitz was familiar with the area around the crash site. What are you hearing about that?

PLEITGEN: It's interesting because he was part of an aeronautics and hand gliding club in his town of Montabaur. Strangely enough that giding club apparently quite frequently went to excursions down to southern France, to the foothills of the Alps. So apparently Lubitz was also very familiar with the terrain there. This acquaintance of his says that the aeroclub was there about 10 times and he does recall at least one time that Lubitz himself was there as well.

There is another media report out there saying that Lubitz was obsessed by the Alps that he loved the mountains there, and so certainly he would have known the terrain where he crashed and also the acquaintance also said that he was very familiar actually with the crash site itself, with that area around there. He says he's flown over that many, many times.

SMERCONISH: And Frederik, finally, today's "New York Times" says that those physician notes that were found in his apartment were from different doctors, suggesting perhaps that he went for a second opinion as to his fitness, his relative fitness. Do you know anything about that?

PLEITGEN: Well, yes, "The New York Times" is saying that he went and tried to get a second opinion. We reached out to the University Medical Center in Dusseldorf which is a town that he lived in. They confirmed to us that he was there for diagnostics twice this year. It wasn't for depression, they didn't say however, whether it might have been for some other mental problem. Certainly, the doctors notes that were found inside his apartment, there seemed to be several of them and of course the state prosecutor of Dusseldorf said that they had been destroyed obviously in attempt to try to hide from his employer that he had some sort of illness, that he was dealing with, by the way, for an extended period of time, the medical records show.

But again, we're still trying to find out what exactly he was suffering from. There are many media outlets that are reporting that it was some sort of depression-related thing. But what exactly it was, we don't know just yet.

SMERCONISH: Frederik Pleitgen, thank you very much.

Let's dive right into all of this now. Joining me is psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz and CNN safety analyst and former FAA safety inspector David Soucie. I'd like to try and cover a lot of ground with my many, many questions.

David, I'll begin with you. Is this the way you would do it? Is this the way that a pilot seeking to crash an airplane would go about it, by manually switching the auto pilot from 33,000 feet to 96 feet, isn't there a faster way?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Historically there has been and there has been done this way with Egypt Air and Silk Air, it's violent movement. This is different. But it is also a different aircraft. Because this aircraft is designed to protect itself from that kind of thing. So to put it forward, it wouldn't let you do that. It wouldn't let you just go into an uncontrolled descent. So it's a little bit -

SMERCONISH: This was probably sick to even ask but probably the most expeditious way then for him to go about.

SOUCIE: I suppose that's correct. Yes.

SMERCONISH: Doctor, why doesn't a guy like this kill himself outside that aircraft instead of killing 149 innocents with him?

GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHIATRIST AND PSYCHOANALYST: The question was what was his motivation? So most suicides, in fact, the vast majority of killing yourself if you are depressed and that's your intent. Only 2.5 percent are really killing somebody else and usually it's killing one other person, a person that you're angry at.

So this is vanishingly rare. And this is a mass murder which makes you think about things like sociopathy, rage, desire for infamy. Those things would be motivators.

SMERCONISH: I've heard many draw conclusions about his breathing, how he was able to maintain some rate of normal breathing for that final nine minutes. It strikes me as a lay person that you're only able to evaluate the breathing in the context of other factors that we now know, like changing the flight altitude. The breathing alone, I mean, he could have had a heart attack and maintained breathing.

SALTZ: You can. You can lose consciousness and maintain breathing. So it must have been a combination of those two things that made them think that he was awake the whole time.

SMERCONISH: David, let's talk about the toggling of that lock switch. If the co-pilot toggled the door control to lock and thereby disabled emergency access for five minutes, is there anything that the pilot, who is trapped in the cabin, could do to gain access?

SOUCIE: Nothing at all. Nothing at all.

SMERCONISH: As long as he keeps his finger on the button in a lock position.

SOUCIE: Well and past five minutes as well he could just continue to hold it down.

SMERCONISH: OK. Because there are reports that after five minutes there is a burst of 30 seconds of opportunity that would allow the pilot to come back in.

SOUCIE: Well, after the - only after the five minutes can you enter the code which then triggers the 30 seconds period to notify the captain, if the captain does not respond by opening the door or locking the door, the door actually opens for five seconds by itself. SMERCONISH: Doctor, he would have had to maintain an amazing level of constitution to hear the pilot outside banging on the door, trying to break down the door, and then in the end, people screaming for as long as nine minutes, maintain that breathing, and continue to do that which he was doing.

SALTZ: I think there are two possibilities that that suggest. One is that you know, this was premeditated, this is a person who's thought a lot about this and does not have the empathy to be concerned about that. In other words, we're talking about sociopathy, someone who would plan that. This is what they wanted so it's not going to upset them.

The other possibility is that, you know, they have suffered so much themselves that the relative suffering of others is not that disturbing to them.

SMERCONISH: Somehow he was able to put on blinders -

SALTZ: Right.

SMERCONISH: Meaning for hearing purposes. And block it all out.

SALTZ: Well, it doesn't mean it was blocked out. It may mean that it fit with whatever - this is completely conjecture you have to realize. We don't know what was in his mind. But you know, when people internally suffer terrible depression, or psychosis, I mean it is utter torment. And that kind of torment might really surpass the idea that other people would be screaming or frightened.

SMERCONISH: David, the FAA two person in the cockpit rule was designed to address incapacitation on the part of a pilot. Is it appropriate in a circumstance like this, will it thwart a pilot himself who has turned bad?

SOUCIE: Actually, we should clarify a little bit why that rule is in place. The only reason that rule is in place originally is the fact that there was - there were no cameras to identify someone trying to get in. So they had to have a second person there because just looking through a peep hole to identify who that person is. So that was the original.

But the second part of your question, I'm sorry, I kind of got side tracked on that.

SMERCONISH: Will this new methodology of requiring two individuals in the cockpit, will that necessarily prevent a cockpit, a pilot who turns bad?

SOUCIE: It certainly will because since that's been implemented and the airlines that it has been implemented in there has been no attempts, not even attempts at suicide or any kind of disruption in the cockpit since that rule.

SALTZ: I'm also going to add to that. It's very different to have people behind you that are anonymous in a plane that you're killing and somebody that you actually take on in a cockpit.

SOUCIE: So deterrent rather than prevention. This is not going to stop an attack that has already started. What it will do is prevent one from starting in the first place.

SMERCONISH: Can a pilot who is being treated for mental health issues maintain his or her career, or is this a professional death sentence?

SALTZ: Absolutely they can maintain their career. The issue is really the beginning of treatment. So, you want to stop them from being responsible for other people when they are in the depths of the illness. And when they are beginning medication which has some risk associated with it. We know that it may increase agitation or some suicide risk at the beginning of medication. That's why pilots aren't supposed to fly then.

But these are treatment - let's put it this way. If it is depression, it is a treatable illness and once it is treated somebody is like anybody else. One out of every 10 people get depression. Are we going to say that those people should never be responsible for anyone else? Then one out of 10 should never drive, one out of 10 should never - it doesn't make sense. The point is when depression is resolved you are back to functional.

SMERCONISH: One of the few cases I remember from law school that I can cite by name is the Terasoft case. You know of what I'm speaking.

SALTZ: Correct.

SMERCONISH: What is the duty on the part of a mental health practitioner dealing with someone like him, again we're presuming, but presuming that he is unfit, is there a duty to report him to the employer?

SALTZ: So, the duty to warn for a psychiatrist or a mental healthcare worker is basically if the patient has in any way let you know that they are a risk to themselves or other people. So had he said anything about you know, I have a plan or I want to do this or even I want to kill myself, that psychiatrist would have a duty to warn law enforcement or whoever is deemed at risk.

So, if he says something about taking down a plane, of course that would be the employer, or you know, whoever he mentioned. If he said I want to get my girlfriend. That he would - you would have a duty to warn the girlfriend. But this is a person who everybody is saying was very secretive. And psychiatrists aren't mind readers so if he mentioned nothing of any of this, then actually the psychiatrist has a duty to keep confidentiality.

I know people have said "hey -"

SMERCONISH: But did he go too far?

SALTZ: Do we go too far? So the question is this. This man probably would never have come into treatment at all if - that's the issue really, right? If you think you have no confidentiality, if you just come in and say "I have depression, and now I'm going to report it to your employer," you're never going to come in the first place.

SMERCONISH: To a lay person it sounds frightening. I've seen the list of medications that according to the FAA standard that one can be on and still be working.


SMERCONISH: You want to dissuade me from my discomfort?

SALTZ: Yes, I think - yes, I do. Because I think that you have to look at what are the specific side effects of those medications. So if we're talking about medical problems , I mean, if the only person who could fly is somebody who is on zero medications, has zero medical problems, then we're probably taking out any one who has experience, the very person that we want to be flying for us.

So I think that what people have to understand is psychiatric illnesses can impair you in a short-term but once treated, not in the long term. Psychotic disorder like schizophrenia that's a different story.

SMERCONISH: It troubles me though the idea that, again, let's make the presumption and let the audience know this is based on conjecture and reporting. It troubles me to think that mental health professional would have deemed him unfit, unfit for what, not to be a CNN host, they knew he was a pilot. Unfit to take command of 149 other lives?

SALTZ: We don't know. We don't know if that's true. We knew somebody wrote a note that said you may not work this day. Now, I don't know if that was permission not to work, if that was by that doctor -

SMERCONISH: The "Times" is reporting today that multiple physicians, two or more, that would suggest that he went for a second opinion.

SALTZ: But we don't know -

SOUCIE: Did they know that he was a pilot? Did they know that he was a pilot? That would be my question.

SMERCONISH: I'm assuming that they do. I mean.

SOUCIE: There is no way to know. Unless you are a medical examiner, designated by the FAA, the European Association, you wouldn't know. There is no - if he doesn't tell you "I'm a pilot," how would you know?

SALTZ: I would say this. If it was a mental health professional who said you are too depressed to be flying in my opinion, then yes, I would say that would be a duty to warn.

SMERCONISH: Is this finally the instance that brings about real time transmission of cockpit data?

SOUCIE: I can hope so. But here is something really historical with this event. There's already been action taken, there has been safety measures taken, they - EASA (ph), not only the airlines have taken measures to say we do need two people in that cockpit now as a mitigation but the regulatory authority themselves, they totally skipped right over this part of figuring out what happened and then applying the regulation, which is incredibly time consuming, Flight 447 we're still waiting on things to respond to that accident.

But this is different. This is very different. I think there is a shift in the culture and I think partly it's because of all of the exposure that the airlines in this industry have gotten.

SMERCONISH: But the pilot union has stood in opposition to the idea of real time transmission of data. How in the face of this and all of the questions that remain can they uphold that position?

SOUCIE: What they are really against, and have been historically, which I think is not the case now, is that the transmission of real- time video data. Now the transmission of actual data, it happens all the time. Information from the aircraft. Now the audio and video is what they are objecting to.

SMERCONISH: If i work at a 7-11, there's video being recorded of what I do for a living.

SOUCIE: Surveillance from the time they drive to work.

SMERCONISH: As a lay person, can I make another suggestion. Shouldn't there be some means from the cabin of alerting forces on the ground that "hey, there is something going on in the cockpit"?

SOUCIE: There are in new aircrafts. There is a way to do that. It's not mandatory, it's not regulated but it's part of a maintenance thing. It sends information about maintenance. The seat back on Seat 5D doesn't work. They type it in. It goes straight to maintenance. By the time the aircraft lands the parts are there, they're ready to fix it. That's the kind of technology we're looking at now.

SALTZ: On the ground they could unlock the door I'm just saying, right. If they knew there was a problem going on and there was a way to unlock the door. Then something like this -

SOUCIE: Now we're talking about remote control. That's a big subject right now.

SMERCONISH: Final issue, a pilot who is a friend of mine. He's an aviation attorney at home in Philadelphia, he said to me, don't underestimate that bi-annual review which is a medical review of those who maintain their license to fly. He said that the interaction with the FAA airmen, there is a degree of mental health review that takes place in that process. Either of you want to respond?

SALTZ: Very, very small. I think insufficient. I think that in the biannual review, much more to be in place will be both a psychological and a mental review. I think.

SOUCIE: It's not a litmus test. You can't say "hey, this guy is OK and this guy is not." So what happens is with the FAA we encourage them to say get a relationship with this person, try to get in their head. But it's not like psychological (INAUDIBLE).

SALTZ: That's not a trained professional, right. There should be - there are rudimentary minimalistic reviews that any primary care physician can do that would at least be somewhat of a check list to flag.

SMERCONISH: Dare I say it seems to me that the system that we have generally works, in this case this guy, if in fact he was washed out of training for a time period, because of mental health issues he should have been gone. That's the answer.

SALTZ: If he was brought back he should have at least - there should be reviews like the six month reviews because we know someone who has had a history of depression can have it again.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, you got through three quarters of my list. The rest of the program I'm getting to everything else. So thank you very much.

We still have so much more to get to on this. Coming up, next, what if during those last few minutes passengers were able to reach out to loved ones with e-mails, texts, videos, there could be evidence out there. The plane may be completely destroyed but we'll find out if it's technically possible to retrieve those final moments.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back. Investigators are facing the daunting task of combing through the French mountainside for clues to exactly what may have led the co-pilot to deliberately crash the plane. A significant piece to this puzzle would be whether passengers on board left any kind of evidence that shows exactly what was going on as the plane went down.

Despite the fact that the airplane is completely destroyed, could investigators find any form of electronic data like e-mails, texts or cell phone video. Let's get a little bit more on this from CNN technology correspondent Samuel Burke.

I flew on an A-320 yesterday. I had wi-fi, I was sending e-mails, I could have watched a movie had I chosen to do so. Presumably, by now, we know if any one had been able to send, successfully send a text, an e-mail, a video of what was transpiring. That hasn't taken place. Does that mean all is lost?

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. There is still a chance that there's some type of information, photos, videos on a cell phone that may be wasn't sent to somebody but could be backed up in the cloud.

Now I think it may sound ridiculous to some that people would have a phone out in this type of situation, but the truth is, Michael, this is exactly what people do nowadays. We have so many instances, just go on Youtube and type in air turbulence. And you'll see when people think the plane is about to crash this is exactly what they do.

This is a video you're seeing right here of a flight that was going from South Korea to Dallas. You hear people on there saying good-bye to their wives, to their children, praying. And this is literally people what they think could be the last moments of their life, this is what many - what the new generation does, it's in a cellphone.

SMERCONISH: In my understanding you to say you wouldn't necessarily have had to transmit it. So if I had my iPhone on that flight and if had taken video but I didn't even try to send it or I tried to send it but I didn't have service so I couldn't, it might never the less be in the cloud.

BURKE: Absolutely. For instance, I use Flicker and it automatically updates all of my photos and videos to the Flicker website and many people do the same thing with iCloud so that even if you didn't send it to your wife or to whomever, it's still backed up on a server.

SMERCONISH: Even without cell service?

BURKE: Well, here's the thing. Germanwings does not have wi-fi, unlike the flight you were on yesterday. We know Germanwings doesn't have wi-fi. But you have to remember they were getting closer and closer to the ground, so they may - there is a much greater likelihood at that point you're starting to get cell service, you're starting to get 3G, maybe even 4g.

So even without send the picture, your internet is picking up even though this is a very amount of time it only takes a few seconds for a photo to start syncing and going into the cloud.

CAVUTO: OK, next question. Let's assume that that is the case which would be wonderful from an evidentiary standpoint. Who gets access?

BURKE: What's interesting here is you would assume the authorities would get access but the answer to that is no, the authorities wouldn't get access at least not immediately because things are so well encrypted now, many of these tech companies after the Snowden revelations have moved to encrypt things so tightly that not even the tech companies can get in if they want. The authorities might be able to go to the tech companies, say "sorry, there is nothing we can do" because they literally don't have the keys.

So what it would take is somebody going into their loved ones -

SMERCONISH: A family member.

BURKE: Exactly, going into their iCloud account, going into some other type of cloud service where it's backed up, finding the photos, videos, e-mails, whatever content might have been saved on the phone and syncs and then giving it to the authorities.

SMERCONISH: I'm not making light of this but I presume those family members would then be putting in the family pet names and all of the other usual suspects for what the passcodes, because you need the passcode. BURKE: Well, don't' forget many loved ones know the passwords of

their wives, of their husbands but yes, you're absolutely right. A lot of times people - this is a situation not just people who died in a plane crash. The situation that a lot of family members find themselves in when a loved one died, they want access to their phone, to their gmail accounts, they go in and start guessing the password.

And the truth is many times loved ones know those hints, where did you grow up, what was your maiden name, that is something that a loved one knows and can try to get into the account that way.

SMERCONISH: A great point that you make. I assume that the law is still unresolved in this area. If you lose a loved one, their personal effects, their papers, their letters and so forth. They become - whomever is the beneficiary of the estate. Is the law yet settled in terms of social media. You lose a loved one and you have their phone, you have their computer, you have their laptop, can you necessarily get access?

BURKE: Technology has moved much faster than our legislation. So in many places this is a very gray area. Going into somebody's account, if you know their password, well you know their password but trying to essentially hack your way in, it is illegal in some places. But again, does anybody know that you're doing it? You could say you got the e-mails and they were delivered to you. It's a very gray zone and we're seeing technology companies now trying to put measures in place that so i can give you access to my account if I die.

It's kind of a digital will, if you will. And we're starting to see companies like Facebook, like Google put measures into place but it's moving very slowly.

SMERCONISH: Bottom line, Samuel, you presume that at this moment 149 grieving families are trying to get access to whatever the technology, the cyber evidence might be of their loved ones?

BURKE: Absolutely. If I were in the situation this horrible situation that many of these families find themselves in, I would absolutely be trying to get into the Flicker account, if I had the password and trying to see if there is evidence that I could provide to the authorities.

SMERCONISH: Excellent report. Thank you. Samuel Burke.

Coming up officials say that the captain of Germanwings flight 9525 tried for nearly 10 minutes to break into the cockpit. But was unsuccessful. Could post-9/11 security measures have played a role in the deadly crash.

Plus technology is already out there that would let authorities in a crisis take complete remote control of the plane from the ground. We'll tell you more about that.


[18:31:46] MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Welcome back. The terror attacks on 9/11 sparked increase security measures on

airplanes to keep the bad guys out of the cockpit. And ironically, those same protections made it possible for the co-pilot of the Germanwings flight to go on a deadly path of destruction. The co- pilot deliberately carried out the disaster after locking the steel reinforced door to the cockpit.

Joining me now is CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem. She's also a former secretary for homeland security.

Juliette, can we blame this on bin Laden?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Oh, well, that's probably sort of too easy. Let's say it is clear that cockpit -- changes to the cockpit door that were made after 9/11 which were absolutely necessary and I have to say absolutely successful if you're looking at the threat of passengers coming into the cockpit, that that actually had this just tragic irony of the kind of disasters that we saw this week.

So, like everything else, times change, risks change, and so security has to adapt to not -- you know, a threat, which is rare. but nonetheless, we've seen which is a pilot or co-pilot bringing an airplane down.

SMERCONISH: So, the FAA, of course, has a two-person rule in the cockpit. We learned that. And now, other airlines, including Germanwings, are falling in line in that standard.

Given your expertise in a national security area, are you confident that that's sufficient to ward off this type of a threat going forward? Meaning from a pilot.

KAYYEM: Well, look, no security measure is perfect. And so, the way we think about it now in terms of -- especially in terms of systems like a global transportation system is that you have layered defenses. So, you look at the pilot, the passengers, the luggage, what's going on at the airport, and you put in so many different kinds of security defenses so that it makes anything that any one wants to do a little bit harder.

Nothing is going to be perfect. Our global transportation system is only as strong as its weakest link. So, even if Lufthansa puts the two-pilot rule in, look, you need universal rules.

But -- so that's a way to think about security. It's not like we're going to do this and it's going to fix everything and there will never be a risk again. It's just you want to put enough things in that make -- that minimize the risk for passengers or whoever else. So, that's why I'm for -- you know, videos in the cockpit. It doesn't make sense from a security perspective, it may not stop a pilot from doing something, but it will certainly help investigators and certainly the family members after the fact.

SMERCONISH: How worried are you that the Islamic State, al Qaeda, ISIL, ISIS, radical Islam, whatever word choice you think appropriate, are paying close attention and adding now to their playbook?

KAYYEM: So, they -- they are not idiots in the sense that they are looking at the news, they see all sorts of vulnerabilities in our airport system and everywhere else in terms of soft targets. I tend to take the emotionality out of these things. So, you know, the politics, the psychology, the ideology matter less to me than can we put in systems that will protect us from either the sort of random co- pilot who may have psychological problems, to an international terrorist organization that wants to bring down a plane.

[18:35:04] For security purposes, the intent matters less than can you put a system in place that makes it harder for anyone, regardless of ideology of harming a large number of people.

SMERCONISH: I worry that sometimes we overreact and have in a number of instances post-September 11. It seems -- given what we know, there's still a lot of unanswered questions. But it seems to me there was a system in place here, and it's not door that represented the failure. Presumably, the failure was on the part of the Lufthansa subsidiary that had a guy working for them that there were plenty of red flags that showed up in the course of his training, and still, with 600 hours under his belt, and a mental health issue, he was permitted to fly.

KAYYEM: Right. I think that's absolutely right. Instead of looking only at the cockpit door issue which I do think is an important thing to assess, it's 15 -- almost 15 years after September 11, security should is not remain the same. We have to be mobile and fluid in how we think about security.

Obviously, there's an issue regarding the psychology of pilots. Look, the military has dealt with this issue, large institutions always have to deal with this issue and get better at it. So, we don't want to look one way and say, oh, we solved it. There's obviously a number of reasons for why this happened, and why we didn't have defenses in place to avert it from happening. And we have to learn from both of them.

So, we don't want to just go in with blinders about, oh, it's the cockpit door. There's a variety of factors, some of them we may never know. But some of them that could help avoid the next incident. And that's just the way we have to look at it. It's no consolation to the family members, but if we can learn how to do this better to avoid or at least minimize the likelihood that this happens again --

SMERCONISH: Absolutely.

KAYYEM: -- then we learned from this tragedy.

SMERCONISH: Juliette Kayyem, thank you.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, much more of our continuing coverage of the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525. What's next for the grieving families of the passengers on that doomed jet? An attorney who represented families from another high profile plane

crash joins me to weigh in.


[18:41:04] SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

While the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 is highly uncommon, it's not unheard of. Tragedies like this have occurred in the past and in some cases, air crash investigators found that the pilots expressed their intentions beforehand. That takes me to my next question. Would the legal liability of Germanwings be capped if the co-pilot deliberately crashed the plane?

Joining me now to discuss is Mitch Baumeister. He's an aviation attorney who represented several victim families after the crash of Egypt Air Flight 990.

Mitch, that flight, Egypt Air 990, would seem analogous to what we're dealing with here. Remind us of what the facts were.

MITCH BAUMEISTER, AVIATION ATTORNEY, BAUMEISTER AND SAMUELS: Well, in Egypt Air 990, Michael, we had a relief co-pilot, individual who was not going to be promoted to captain, there were a bunch of personal issues surrounding his conduct in the United States and in Egypt, and he took off, was a flight from L.A., remained overnight at JFK, then at JFK to Egypt flight.

When they took off around Nantucket, he as a relief pilot went in and took the controls, the captain left the flight cockpit, left, he then took control of the plane, said, I put my hands in -- I put myself in God's hands, whatever will happen will happen, and he lit early drove the plane into the ocean. The captain returned and got in the cockpit, and actually said to this relief pilot, pull with me, do something, shut the power. Help me.

He continued to push the plane into the ocean, chanting in Arabic that "I'm in God's hands, God will take care of me", and essentially committed his own suicide as the NTSB said, the cause of the crash was due to his direct pilot inputs, as a result of that, he committed mass murder as well as his own suicide. And --

SMERCONISH: I remember that -- I remember that the NTSB came to that conclusion. Is my memory accurate in that Egypt Air through the end refused to admit that that's what the cause was?

BAUMEISTER: Absolutely. And, you know, having done this for 40 years and involved in every major crash, whenever we have foreign carriers and foreign governments, many of the governments own the airlines, we run into resistance for the professionalism of the NTSB. And they never wanted to acknowledge that their pilot had done this, they wanted to blame it on some kind of mechanical error.

So, you are 100 percent right, Michael. Your memory is spot on. And that's what happened. Now, in 40 years, I want you to understand, and having been involved

in the Lockerbie disaster and representing the fellow -- the people, Todd Beamer and Jeremy Glick in United 93 during 9/11, this is such a rare occurrence. And as a pilot over 40 years, this is such a rare occurrence, this is really the only time I have ever seen Egypt Air 990, although recently they reported it may have happened in Mozambique, and, of course, now, if the facts as stated are proven it will have happened here, sadly and tragically, in Germanwings.

SMERCONISH: Will there be a cap on damages?

BAUMEISTER: There will not, Michael. And that's the second most important point. That's really one of the main reasons I'm here today.

I want people to understand -- there's a lot of misinformation out there and I'm glad you asked me to come on. Unlike a domestic crash, namely a flight wholly within the United States or domestic country, this tragedy is governed by the Montreal Convention. And in the Montreal Convention, regardless of the pilot's actions, even -- as a former prosecutor who tried murder cases, even though this is a deliberate act, descending from altitude flying it into the mountain, this will not -- not only not cap the damages, which are unlimited to the extent they are provable, it will hold the airline responsible under Article 21 of the Montreal Convention.

[09:45:00] And just quickly, Article 21 says the carrier will pay above approximately 150,000 automatic damages paid to the families. The carrier will be responsible for full unlimited damages above that $150,000, unless it can prove that the crash was not due to the wrongful act of its agent in the course and scope of his or her employment and we know that's, in fact, what happened here. Or, such crash was caused solely by the act of a third party.

For example, flying over the ocean, and some foreign ship shot them down. Neither one of these facts obtained there will be litigation under the Montreal Convention, and there will be no cap or limit on the damages.

SMERCONISH: Mitch Baumeister, thank you so much.

BAUMEISTER: OK, Michael, thank you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, we'll head out live to Germany with the very latest on the crash investigation.

Plus, ground personnel flying a jetliner by remote control. It's almost a reality. But is it a good idea?


[18:50:20] SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

Rescue crews are battling treacherous conditions to find bodies and that one missing black box. Debris from Flight 9525 scattered across rugged remote terrain in the French Alps. Let's get right to CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, who's live in Dusseldorf

with the very latest.

Fred, it seems to me investigators would most want to speak to a former girlfriend to find out his mental state.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, probably her and I'm guessing that his family as well. However, the "Bild" newspaper, which is the biggest tabloid in Germany, has managed to speak to one of the ex-girlfriends, and she said that Andreas Lubitz was a man who needed a lot of attention, a man who can be sensitive, very flattering at times as well, but also someone who apparently had a dark side to him.

Also, she said he became erratic at times, that he became very angry, especially when he was talking about his employer. He felt that Germanwings wasn't treating him well.

This is according to the "Bild" newspaper. So, we're only getting this from a third source, but it certainly is, of course, a major point to these investigators, to speak to anyone who had direct contact with Andreas Lubitz, especially, of course, someone like a girlfriend, someone like his parents, someone like his brother who he was living with as well, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Do we know anything about the investigation relative to medications that he was on at the time of the crash or medications that he had stopped taking just before the crash?

PLEITGEN: Very little about medications. It's -- all that we have is from the prosecutor's office, and they're saying that he was being treated for some sort of illness, and that he had been treated for it for a very long time and he was seeing a doctor. And also, of course, he had those sick notes that he tore up. It's unclear what medications he might have been on, but it's something investigators will be looking at as well.

SMERCONISH: Frederik Pleitgen, thank you very much for your report.

Coming up, the possibility of pilotless aircraft is already being explored. We'll look at a new technology that could save a plane from being hijacked.


[18:56:47] SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

The crash of the Germanwings flight has reignited the debate about aircraft control. There's already a technology that's been developed that would let authorities on the ground intervene if there's a crisis in the air. Boeing has a patent, and Google has already conducted a test flight.

So, why isn't it being used?

CNN's Tom Foreman has the answer. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Michael. Boeing has a patent. Google has had a test flight of one of these planes. Big tech names all over the world are looking at this idea of airplanes that can be flown remotely from the ground in the belief that this might make them impervious from terrorist attacks, from criminal acts, and from any other sort of assault.

(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. Analysts say pilotless planes could be a $400 billion a year global business.

So, why not passenger flights? First, the airline industry has remarkable safety record despite high profile disasters. Many believe on board pilots remain the most reliable way to handle problems and retrofitting planes would cost billions of dollars. And second, passengers may not be ready.

Robert Goyer is with "Flying" magazine.

ROBERT GOYER, FLYING MAGAZINE: I start by asking myself that question. How would I feel getting into an airplane that didn't have pilots up front? And I wouldn't do it.

FOREMAN (on camera): There are a lot of unanswered questions still. For example, what happens if one of the planes gets free of electronic tether, what if terrorists take over a ground control station and in that fashion start controlling the plane. One possible answer would be to add more than one station at a time so that any plane must be controlled from multiple points.

But even then, what if somebody hacks into the data stream and they take over the plane that way. All of these questions are going to have to be answered, because even

though our planes are becoming more and more automated, and some take off and land pretty much on their own, this idea of controlling one from the ground has to be worked out in much more detail before it becomes a reality -- Michael.


SMERCONISH: Thank you, Tom. I'm reminded of the fact that elevators used to have operators as well.

Thank you so much for joining me. Please don't forget, you can follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish.

I'll see you next week.