Father disputes co-pilot guilt on Germanwings crash anniversary

Deborah COLE
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This file photo taken on April 6, 2015 shows people's shadows as they stand near a stela commemorating the victims of the March 24 Germanwings Airbus A320 crash in the village of Le Vernet, southeastern France, after a ceremony with victims' relatives

Two years to the day after the deadly Germanwings crash in the French Alps, the father of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz spoke out Friday to dispute official findings that his son deliberately downed the plane.

Both the message and the timing of the first public appearance by a member of Lubitz's close family since the 2015 disaster that claimed 150 lives were criticised by victims' families, who held their own sombre events to mark the tragedy.

German prosecutors in January closed their investigation after determining that Lubitz, 27, was suicidal and bore sole responsibility for the catastrophe, following similar conclusions from a French probe.

The co-pilot's father, 63-year-old Guenter Lubitz, called a press conference in Berlin to challenge those findings alongside a journalist he hired, Tim van Beveren, whom he called "an internationally recognised aerospace expert".

Lubitz senior argued that the image of the suicidal loner or cold-blooded killer did not correspond with the son he knew, and called for a new investigation into the cause of the crash.

"We have to live with the fact that we not only lost our son, but also that it was concluded two days after the fact that he was a depressed mass murderer," Lubitz, who bears a striking physical resemblance to his son, told the packed hotel conference room.

"I would like to stress that we experienced our son in the six years before the crash as someone who said yes to life. Our son was not depressed at the time of the crash."

Mourners in the western German town of Haltern am See, which lost 16 students and two teachers who were returning from an exchange programme in Spain, expressed outrage as the school held a commemorative ceremony.

Its principal, Ulrich Wessel, told DPA news agency the press conference had been a "provocation" and "an affront to the parents" of the dead schoolchildren and said Lubitz senior appeared to have "lost touch with reality".

Meanwhile a spokesman for the German transport ministry told reporters there were "no grounds to doubt the results" of the official investigations.

- 'My grief is different' -

Lubitz, wearing a black suit and a black necktie, defended his decision to speak out on the anniversary, saying it had ensured that his viewpoint would be heard.

"Just like all the other families, we are looking for the truth," he said, fighting back tears. But he added that his suffering was unique because of his son's role in the disaster.

"I say this with great caution because it can easily be misunderstood: my grief is different. It is special."

Van Beveren did not present an alternative theory of what led to the crash but accused investigators, in particular Marseille public prosecutor Brice Robin, of zeroing in on Lubitz from the start of the probe.

"Everyone heard that and wrote it -- and everyone believed it," he said. "We all have theories but theories are not proof."

- Disbelief -

Lubitz's parents had already angered the victims' families last year when they placed a heartfelt newspaper advert in their son's memory to mark the first anniversary of the crash.

Entitled simply "Andreas" and featuring a smiling photograph of the co-pilot, the brief text ended with a message to their son in bold letters: "We miss you very much but you are and will remain in our hearts".

They spoke of a year "filled with horror and fear" but did not explicitly mention the 149 other people killed in the crash.

Meanwhile, the victims' families devoted the second anniversary to remembering their loved ones.

Around 500 people gathered in the French Alpine town of Digne-les-Bains near the crash site for an ecumenical church service as a light rain fell. At the moment of the crash, 10:41 am, they observed a minute of silence.

Here too, mourners expressed disbelief at Lubitz's new allegations.

The head of Germanwings parent company Lufthansa, Carsten Spohr, said it was "not the day to speculate", while the mayor of neighbouring town Prads, Bernard Bertolini, called the statements a "provocation".