Lufthansa says Germanwings co-pilot had 'severe depression'

BERLIN - The co-pilot suspected of deliberately crashing a Germanwings plane told his bosses he had suffered from severe depression, Lufthansa has revealed, as the airlines' chief executives announced plans to visit the crash site on Wednesday.

Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, said 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz had told the airline in 2009 about his illness after interrupting his flight training.

The parent company said it had handed additional information, especially medical and training documents, to prosecutors in the western German city of Duesseldorf after "further internal investigations".

The airline had before now only said that Lubitz had interrupted his training for several months six years ago, but Lufthansa chief Carsten Spohr had not provided an explanation as to why he did so.

Flight 4U9525 crashed in the French Alps at a speed of 700 kilometres (430 miles) an hour, instantly killing all 150 people on board.

Spohr and Thomas Winkelmann, the head of low-cost subsidiary Germanwings, will visit where the plane crashed in Seyne-les-Alpes early Wednesday to pay their respects to the dead.

It came as authorities said all bodies of victims from the plane disaster had been recovered from the site.

"There are no more bodies at the site. Tomorrow 20 military climbers will go there with teams to recover the personal effects," Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Marc Menichini told AFP near the crash area.

French President Francois Hollande, meanwhile, said on a one-day visit to Berlin that authorities hoped identification of all the 150 people on board would be possible within a week, helping to allow families to grieve.

"The interior minister (Bernard Cazeneuve) has confirmed that by the end of the week, it would be possible to identify all the victims thanks to the DNA samples taken and to this exceptional scientific work," Hollande said.

The French president was speaking at a press conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel following a joint meeting of their two cabinets.

Lufthansa pays respects

Half of the victims were German and Merkel praised the work of rescuers in the remote mountainous terrain, as well as the way local people had helped the victims' families.

At least 50 of those on board were from Spain, while the remainder of the 150 victims were a mix of more than a dozen other nationalities.

A local regional official from the crash area, Patricia Willaert, told reporters Tuesday that more than 450 relatives had made their way there so far.

Lufthansa, meanwhile, said $300 million (S$410 million) in provisions had been earmarked to cover the damages.

The sum includes financial compensation for the families of the people who died and the cost of the Airbus A320 jet itself, which belonged to Germanwings, a company spokeswoman told AFP.

The current list price of an Airbus A320 jet is $93.9 million.

The director of operations at Germanwings, Oliver Wagner, has said that the company would immediately compensate each family with 50,000 euros.

This sum would not be deducted from any final compensation deal, he added.

The catastrophe has dealt a heavy blow to Lufthansa's image and it announced Tuesday it would cancel celebrations next month marking the airline's 60th anniversary "out of respect for the crash victims of Flight 4U9525".

Investigators evaluating voice recorder data from a black box located last week say the co-pilot apparently locked his captain out of the cockpit and deliberately slammed the plane into a French mountainside.

Lubitz was diagnosed as suicidal "several years ago", before he became a pilot, but had appeared more stable of late, German prosecutors said Monday.

Doctors had recently found no sign he intended to hurt himself or others, said Ralf Herrenbrueck, spokesman for the prosecutor's office in Duesseldorf.

However, he was receiving treatment from neurologists and psychiatrists who had signed him off sick from work a number of times, including the day of the crash.

The second black box recorder, which gathered technical data on the flight, has yet to be found.

'Systemic weaknesses'

A video emerged Tuesday purporting to show the final moments inside the plane, with German newspaper Bild and France's Paris Match claiming to have seen the footage, which they said was shot on a mobile phone.

However, French police official Menichini denied that investigators had found mobile phone footage, telling CNN that the reports were "completely wrong" and "unwarranted".

Forensic teams have isolated almost 80 distinct DNA strands from the shattered aircraft and have described the task as "unprecedented" given the tricky mountain terrain and the speed at which the plane smashed.

French investigators said they would now concentrate on "the systemic weaknesses" that might have caused the disaster, including the logic of locking cockpit doors from the inside, a measure introduced to stop terrorist attacks after the September 11, 2001, suicide hijackings in the United States.

They also plan to look into procedures for detecting "specific psychologic profiles" in pilots after indications that Lubitz may have suffered from depression.

Brazilian aviation authorities called Tuesday for its airlines to require two authorised crew members to be present in the cockpit at all times.

The Germanwings tragedy saw the senior pilot try desperately to reopen the cockpit door during the flight's eight-minute descent after he left to use the toilet, leaving Lubitz alone at the controls.

Several other airlines, including Emirates and EasyJet, and countries such as Australia, Canada and Mexico have adopted similar measures