Home of Germanwings co-pilot searched

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(CNN) — Police searched Germanwings Flight 9525 co-pilot Andreas Lubitz’s apartment in Dusseldorf, Germany, on Thursday, the city’s police spokesman said in televised comments. A team of five investigators went “through the apartment looking for clues as to what the co-pilot’s motivation might have been, if he did indeed bring the plane down,” police spokesman Markus Niesczery said.

Investigators  took several objects and papers that may be evidence that will reveal more information on why he “deliberately” flew a plane into the French Alps, German police said Friday.

Meanwhile, transponder data shows that the autopilot on Germanwings Flight 9525 was reprogrammed by someone in the cockpit to change the plane’s altitude from 38,000 feet to 100 feet, according to Flightradar24, a website that tracks aviation data.

A day after a French prosecutor said a co-pilot intentionally set a Germanwings plane on a fatal descent, terrifying mysteries remained.

Why did Andreas Lubitz fly the jetliner into the French Alps, killing all 150 people aboard?

Did he plan his actions?

What drove the German national to do that?

Those questions and more remained unanswered after the Tuesday crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 headed from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany.

And as 18 nations mourn their citizens, the search for clues has shifted to the 27-year-old’s apartment in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Investigators went “through the apartment looking for clues as to what the co-pilot’s motivation might have been, if he did indeed bring the plane down,” police spokesman Markus Niesczery said Thursday.

New details

Amid all the questions, some answers emerged Thursday.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said Lubitz apparently “wanted to destroy the aircraft.”

Transponder data showed the autopilot was reprogrammed by someone in the cockpit to change the plane’s altitude from 38,000 feet to 100 feet, according to Flightradar24, a website that tracks aviation data.

“We at Lufthansa are speechless that this aircraft has been deliberately crashed by the co-pilot,” said Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings.

It’s unknown whether Lubitz planned his actions, Robin said. But he “took advantage” of a moment in which the pilot left the cockpit and “activated the descent,” which can only be done deliberately.

Banging and screaming

The plane’s cockpit audio recorder captured horrific sounds. The captain, who was locked out of the cockpit, banged on the door to be allowed in, the prosecutor said.

Lubitz’s breathing was steady, with no sign that he had a heart attack or other medical issue.

Scared passengers can be heard screaming on the audio recording for the final few minutes of the flight.

During the beginning of the flight, the pilot and co-pilot had normal exchanges, Robin said. When the pilot stepped out to go to the bathroom, he asked Lubitz to take over.

It’s unclear whether the pilot entered a code to try to get back into the cockpit when he returned, or whether Lubitz “put the lever on lock,” which would have prevented the code from working, Spohr said.

The most plausible explanation is that Lubitz, “through deliberate abstention, refused to open the cabin door … to the chief pilot, and used the button” to cause the plane to lose altitude, Robin said.

The disaster is not being described as a “terrorist attack,” and the killing of 150 people would generally not be described as a “suicide” either, Robin said.

If a person kills himself and 149 others, the word suicide should be replaced with another word, Spohr said.

Officials said Lubitz was not known to be on any terrorism list, and his religion was not immediately known.

Missing flight data recorder

A search is underway for the plane’s second “black box,” the flight data recorder, which could shed more light on the plane’s final minutes.

The French government has asked the FBI to help investigate the crash, a law enforcement official said.

Germanwings said the plane reached its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, and then dropped for about eight minutes.

The plane lost contact with French radar at a height of about 6,000 feet. Then it crashed.

The 144 passengers and six crew members came from 18 countries. About half were from Germany, and 35 were from Spain.

No psychological testing after hiring

Lubitz had trained at the Lufthansa flight center in Bremen, Germany. He had been with Germanwings since September 2013 and had completed 630 hours of flight time, the company said.

He only had about 100 hours of experience on the type of aircraft he was flying, but he had all the necessary certifications and qualifications to pilot the aircraft alone, the prosecutor said.

He had passed medical tests, Spohr said.

Lufthansa does not have standard psychological testing for pilots once they are hired, Spohr said. The company considers an applicant’s psychological state when hiring, he said.

The co-pilot was “fully qualified to pilot the aircraft on his own,” Robin said.

Village opens homes

Relatives and friends of the victims traveled on special Lufthansa flights to an area near the site where their loved ones perished. They held prayers overlooking the mountain where their loved ones perished. Flowers and pictures sat on the ground, candles flickering in the cold air Thursday night.

Seyne-les-Alpes, a nearby town, is serving as a staging post. Mayor Francis Hermitte predicted that 200 to 300 people would come to the area Thursday.

Local residents have offered accommodations for those who want to stay overnight, the mayor said.

Lufthansa is providing “financial support” to relatives of the victims, Spohr said. He declined to go into details.

Pilots’ families separated from victims’ kin

The families of the two pilots are also in France, Robin said, but they are not in the same place as the passengers’ relatives.

The bodies of the crash victims will not be released to family members until all DNA identification work has been done — a process likely to last several weeks, he said.

While some human remains have been recovered, many have not. The task is treacherous for search crews working on steep slopes in icy weather. Workers were dropped by helicopters and tied together for safety.

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