After listening to the final horrifying minutes of Flight 9525 on Tuesday, heard on its black-box voice recorder, French investigators have concluded that the Germanwings jet co-pilot locked himself in the cockpit and intentionally crashed the plane "full speed into the French Alps, ignoring the captain's frantic pounding on the cockpit door," the Associated Press reports.
Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz's "intention [was] to destroy this plane," Marseille, France, prosecutor Brice Robin said, noting that screaming passengers could be heard in the background as the plane began descending at a rapid pace. All 144 passengers and six crew members died on impact after an eight-minute descent, AP reports.
According to AP, the Airbus A320 lost radio control during the flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany. It is believed that once the plane reached cruising altitude, the pilot, who has not been identified, left the cockpit, possibly to use the restroom.
It is then that Lubitz, 28, reportedly locked himself in the cockpit alone and began what AP notes was a silent descent into the French mountainside. Lubitz didn't answer the screams heard on the recording outside the cockpit door, or the frantic calls from the air-traffic control center, which noticed the plane rapidly falling. For eight minutes Lubitz sat silently as the plane headed toward the Alps.
"When he was alone, the co-pilot manipulated the buttons of the flight monitoring system to initiate the aircraft's descent," Robin said, according to AP. Robin added that Lubitz said nothing when the pilot left the cockpit and that his breathing never increased, which would have indicated that he was panicked, according to the news agency.
"You don't get the impression that there was any particular panic, because the breathing is always the same. The breathing is not panting. It's a classic human breathing," Robin said.
The crew do have an override code in case a pilot loses consciousness, which can be used to open the cockpit door, according to AP, but that code was never enacted. It might have proved useless anyway, since the cockpit can issue a lockdown that does not allow anyone in under any circumstances.
AP notes that the co-pilot never issued a distress call or responded to any attempts made by air-traffic control to initiate an emergency landing. "The French air force scrambled a fighter jet to try to head off the crash," AP reports.
"The victims realized just at the last moment," Robin said. "We can hear them screaming."
According to AP, since 9/11 all U.S. planes are required to have two people in the cockpit at all times. If a pilot must leave the cockpit, a flight attendant can briefly be in the cockpit in his or her place, but European airlines don't have the same restrictions.
Robin noted that the pilot couldn't have done anything more to attempt to stop the crash and added that Lubitz "had never been flagged as a terrorist." Robin refused to provide AP with Lubitz's religion or his ethnic background.
"I could not have imagined that becoming even worse," Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said after learning that the crash was caused intentionally. "We choose our cockpit staff very, very carefully."
Read more at the Associated Press.