TIME France

Struggle to Explain Motivation of Co-pilot in Germanwings Crash

"We don't have a clue what was going through his mind"

(LONDON) — A disgruntled worker shoots up a workplace. A student opens fire at a high school. A pilot crashes a planeload of people into a mountainside.

There may never be a convincing explanation for such devastating acts of violence, but experts say certain personality disorders such as extreme narcissism can help push people who want to take their own lives to take those of others at the same time.

But as German prosecutors search for what might have motivated co-pilot Andreas Lubitz to deliberately smash the Germanwings plane carrying 149 other people into the French Alps, many experts caution against speculating on a diagnosis.

“We don’t have a clue what was going through his mind,” said Dr. Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London. “Even if we had all of his medical records and had conducted interviews with him, it would probably still be impossible to explain such an inexplicable act.”

Ripped-up sick notes from a doctor found at Lubitz’s home by German prosecutors suggest the27-year-old had an illness he hid from his employers at Germanwings. Medical documents showed he had an existing illness — which wasn’t specified — but no suicide note was found. A Dusseldorf hospital confirmed Friday that Lubitz had been treated recently, but didn’t say for what.

Neighbors of Lubitz were shocked at allegations he could have deliberately smashed the plane and said he had seemed thrilled with his job at Germanwings. They described a man whose physical health was excellent and records show Lubitz took part in several long-distance runs. Germanwings said he had passed all required medical check-ups.

Some experts said it was possible that people who commit such horrific acts of violence might be suffering from mental illnesses like narcissism or psychosis.

Dr. Raj Persaud, a fellow of Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, says that in cases of mass murder, people sometimes suffer from personality disorders that make them extremely self-centered. He and others were speaking generally and had no personal knowledge of the Lubitz case.

“People feel that something so terrible has been done to them that this catastrophic act is warranted in exchange,” he said. “To them, it feels like the correct balance to equal what they suffered.”

Others said that preventing such chilling acts of violence may be nearly impossible if there aren’t any obvious warning signs or if the person is able to hide their symptoms.

“People can become quite skilled at masking their problems because it’s socially undesirable,” said Dr. Paul Keedwell, a psychiatrist who specializes in mood disorders at Cardiff University.

Keedwell said it would be unwise to assume Lubitz’s deliberate plane crash was an aggressive act.

“It’s difficult to understand, but what if he was just so wholly preoccupied with ending his own life he didn’t have any regard for the other people on the airplane?” he said.

He likened it to people who throw themselves in front of trains without considering the trauma that might inflict on the driver and other passengers.

Some experts said mass murders are intended by the killer to do maximum damage, to draw attention to themselves.

“The subject wins fame by doing something the world will remember, even if it’s as a negative hero,” said Dr. Roland Coutanceau, president of the French League for Mental Health.

He said such acts are sometimes committed by paranoid people angry with their employer or with society at large.

“This is a destructive act that (gives) him some kind of immortality,” Coutanceau said. “Death is therefore part of his script.”


Philippe Sotto in Paris contributed to this report.

Read next: German Co-Pilot Visited Alps Near Crash Site as a Child

TIME Aviation

These Charts Show Why the Germanwings Crash Is Especially Unusual

Incidents at cruising altitude are very rare

Any plane crash involving a passenger carrier is highly unlikely—but Tuesday’s loss of a Germanwings Airbus A320 in the French Alps is especially unusual given the tragedy’s circumstances.

Flight 9525 was carrying 150 people at a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet Tuesday morning before it began rapidly descending, officials said. That’s an unfortunately familiar story—the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and AirAsia Flight 8501 crashes happened at cruising altitude. But it’s also very rare: only 10% of fatal accidents involving a plane damaged beyond repair involved a plane that had reached cruising altitude, according to a report by Boeing. Officials said Thursday that the co-pilot intentionally crashed the plane.

But most accidents (called “hull loss fatal accidents”) occur during takeoff and landing. Recent examples include last month’s TransAsia Flight 235 crash, which suffered engine failure 37 seconds after takeoff, or last year’s TransAsia Flight 222 crash, which crashed on landing due to bad weather.

Previous reasons for catastrophe at cruising altitude have ranged from pilot suicide to structural failure to terrorist bombings. The White House said Tuesday there is “no indication of a nexus to terrorism” regarding the Germanwings flight.

But the Germanwings crash is unusual for another reason, too. The plane involved, an Airbus A320, has one of the best safety records compared to other popular models, with 0.14 hull loss fatal accidents per million departures, according to Boeing, which analyzed safety data between 1959 and 2013.

During that time range, the Airbus A320 was roughly as safe as the long-range Boeing 777, which had 0.13 hull loss fatal accidents per million departures. It was also roughly as safe the Boeing 737 family and Embraer (EMB) family, some of the most common jets used for shorter commercial flights.

Keep in mind Boeing’s data only goes through 2013. So for better or for worse, it doesn’t account for Malaysia Airlines’ two tragedies in 2014 that involved the Boeing 777. And since the Boeing 777 had only 3 hull losses before then, the 777’s hull loss fatal accident rate has now likely almost doubled. Boeing’s data also doesn’t account for the two recent A320 accidents—the Germanwings crash and the AirAsia crash in December—though these will have less of an impact on the A320 family’s rate, since those aircraft had 19 hull losses through 2013.

TIME France

Witness Scenes From the Plane Crash in the French Alps

Officials said 150 people are feared dead after the Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed Tuesday near the village of Digne-Les-Bains in the French Alps

TIME France

Paris Takes Cars Off the Road to Fight Smog

Marcaux—Getty Images Paris Dusk

The restrictions—and free public transportation—helped cut traffic by 40 percent

About 750 police officers were deployed in and around Paris on Monday to enforce emergency traffic laws aimed at reducing the city’s encompassing fog.

Only “clean” vehicles, hybrids and electrics, as well as cars with odd number plates were allowed to circulate the streets on Monday, and violators faced a 22-euro ($24) fine, according to Le Monde. Exceptions were also made for emergency and some commercial vehicles. Meanwhile, public transportation was free.

According to Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said traffic was down by 40 percent on Monday morning.

Paris has struggled to bring down high pollution rates, and last week it briefly topped cities like Beijing and Delhi as the most polluted in the world.

The government said the restrictions, which have been imposed twice before, will be lifted on Tuesday thanks to a projected improvement in conditions.

TIME France

See How a Rare ‘Supertide’ Turned a French Medieval Town Into an Island

France High Tide
AP An aerial view as a "supertide" submerges a narrow causeway leading to the Mont Saint-Michel, on France's northern coast, March 21, 2015.

Mont Saint-Michel is normally accessible by a slim causeway.

Visitors witnessed Mont Saint-Michel in northwestern France become an island on Saturday, thanks to a rare “supertide” that submerged a causeway that typically provides access to the medieval community. The waters rose some 42 feet (13 meters) and temporarily disconnected the area, which is about 2,000 feet (600 meters) from land.

TIME France

5 Dead Babies Found in French Home

A man called the police after finding a corpse in a cooler bag

Police discovered five dead babies in a house in the south of France on Thursday after a man who lives there called to say he had found one corpse in a cooler bag. When law enforcement arrived and searched the house, they discovered the other four corpses in a large freezer.

The man’s wife was taken to the hospital to be examined, and a preliminary investigation suggests she may have recently given birth alone in the house, the New York Times reports. Neither the husband nor neighbors who had seen her recently seemed to know if she was pregnant. It’s unclear whether she is the mother of the children, and autopsies are underway to determine how the babies died.

The husband, a farmer, and wife, who works at a garden nursery, have two teenage daughters.


TIME Companies

French Police Raid Uber Offices in Paris

Uber called the raid an "attempt at intimidation"

French Police raided Uber’s office in Paris on Monday as part of an investigation into the company’s controversial UberPop carpooling service.

A French prosecutor ordered the 25-officer raid at Uber’s Paris headquarters, seizing emails, documents and smartphones used by Uber drivers, French media reports.

The raid is the result of the company’s controversial UperPop service, which connects clients with non-professional drivers, the Verge reports. UberPop was ruled illegal in France under a new law that requires all chauffeurs to be licensed and insured, conditions French authorities say UberPop doesn’t meet.

Uber called the raid “an attempt at intimidation” and said it plans to “vigorously defend the rights conferred upon it by EU law and the French Constitution.”

[Le Monde]

Read next: Uber’s CFO Steps Down

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?

By Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic

2. The divorce rate is falling. Here’s why that’s bad news for some Americans.

By Sharadha Bain in the Washington Post

3. Across the planet, cost and class determine who lives and who dies.

By Paul Farmer in the London Review of Books

4. The U.S. should consider joining — rather than containing — the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

By Elizabeth C. Economy in Asia Unbound

5. Trade unions in Cleveland will launch a “pre-apprentice” program to prepare high school kids for construction jobs.

By Patrick O’Donnell in the Cleveland Plain Dealer

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME France

Original Asterix Artwork Raises Over $150,000 for Charlie Hebdo Victims

Kenzo Tribouillard—AFP/Getty Images A picture taken on March 14, 2015, shows the original drawing of the Asterix comic book Les Lauriers de César (Asterix and the Laurel Wreath), displayed at Christie's auction house in Paris

Christie's auction house also waived its commission

The original artwork for an Asterix cartoon from the 1970s was auctioned for more than $150,000 on Sunday, with proceeds going to victims of January’s attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The cartoon panels from the iconic comic-book series bore a special dedication from co-creator Albert Uderzo, the BBC reported.

Uderzo, 87, briefly came out of retirement earlier this year to draw two tributes to the 12 victims of the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris, where two gunmen opened fire on Jan. 7 over the magazine’s publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed.

Auction house Christie’s reportedly waived its commission for the sale of the artwork, which comes from the 1971 comic Asterix and the Laurel Wreath.


TIME France

Kosher Supermarket in Paris Reopens After January Attack

Hyper Cacher Jewish Supermarket Reopens Today In Paris
Aurelien Meunier—Getty Images The Kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher, following its reopening, March 15, 2015 in Paris.

“We wanted to reopen quickly and to show we are not defeated and not afraid"

The kosher supermarket in eastern Paris where four people were killed in a January attack reopened Sunday under heavy security.

The store, one of 13 in the Hyper Cacher chain, was closed since Jan. 9 and had become a site of tributes and mourning after three days of terror rocked the French capital, The Wall Street Journal reports. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was the first customer, saying, “I came here to say the French Republic is doing everything so that all French people are protected from the threat of terrorism and so that we can live in our country freely.”

Authorities said gunman Amedy Coulibaly stormed the shop, leaving four victims dead, one day after killing a policewoman. The attack came two days after brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi killed 12 people at the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Two separate raids left all three attackers dead.

“We wanted to reopen quickly and to show we are not defeated and not afraid,” said Laurent Mimoun, one of Hyper Cacher’s owners, adding that all staffers who were working during the attack are still on leave. “It was important for the victims’ relatives and the people in the neighborhood.”


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