Was The Germanwings Copilot A Terrorist Or Mass Murderer?

by John Haltiwanger

No matter what the circumstances, it's always disturbing when a plane crashes. Yet, when the news broke earlier today that the copilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 was suspected of deliberately crashing the plane into the French Alps, it was particularly unsettling.

Andreas Lubitz, the 28-year-old copilot in question, is responsible for the deaths of 144 passengers and six crew members, including himself.

It's undoubtedly sad that people commit suicide every day, but they're rarely at the helm of a massive aircraft carrying over 100 people when they do it.

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it, these revelations add an "absolutely unimaginable dimension" to this already tragic incident.

Details surrounding the crash are still emerging, and it's difficult to determine exactly what happened.

Based on claims from a Marseille prosecutor, an ongoing investigation and evidence gathered from the cockpit's voice recorder, here's what we know:

When the plane reached cruising height, the pilot left the cockpit and asked Lubitz to take over the controls. Upon his return, it seems Lubitz refused to reopen the door.

As the pilot fought to reenter, banging loudly on the door, Lubitz appears to have intentionally directed the plane into its ultimately fatal descent.

Other than breathing, Lubitz did not make a sound throughout this time.

As a consequence of post-9/11 regulations, cockpits are impregnable and always locked. They can be reentered with a code, but this can be changed or overridden within the cockpit. Lubitz may have changed the code, but it's also possible the pilot entered it incorrectly.

Consequently, we are still left with many questions and few answers.

First and foremost, what could motivate someone to do something so violent and destructive?

It's not yet clear whether Lubitz had a history of mental illness. Some reports suggest he may have suffered from depression at some point during his flight training.

Officials have also stated he had no links to terrorism, but that hasn't stopped people from labeling him as such:

Under the definition of terrorism Andreas Lubitz is a terrorist, he randomly killed civilians and made all afraid of flying. — Martin Varsavsky (@martinvars) March 26, 2015

This isn't entirely correct.

Although the definition of "terrorism" is frequently debated, there is a general consensus it means to use violence as a means of coercing or forcing governments and/or civilians into taking certain actions. In other words, fueled by political purposes.

On the is-it-or-is-it-not-terrorism, here's the FBI definition of terrorism: — Rick Klau (@rklau) March 26, 2015

It does not appear Lubitz had any deliberate intentions of spreading fear among the public, as Martin Varsavsky implied (above). And based on what we know, he had no political motivations.

Simply put, this was not an act of terror, as disturbing and frightening as it may be.

Please, everybody, look up the definition of terrorism before throwing in your two cents. #Germanwings — TheRealGreens (@JayGreens) March 26, 2015

The fact of the matter is we still don't have all of the details. It would be premature to reach any broad conclusions about Lubitz's motivations or character. What is clear, however, is that 150 people are now dead as a result of his actions.

In essence, Andreas Lubitz could certainly be labeled a mass murderer, but probably not a terrorist.

Citations: Prosecutor Germanwings Co Pilot Appears To Have Crashed Plane Deliberately (Huffington Post), Germanwings plane crash Copilot wanted to destroy plane (BBC News), Kamikaze Co Pilot Commits Mass Murder (The Daily Beast), Could the Germanwings Crash Have Been Avoided (The Atlantic), Merkel says crash findings add absolutely unimaginable dimension (France24), Mass killer co pilot who deliberately flew Germanwings plane into a mountain after locking captain out of cockpit had to STOP his training because he was depressed and suffering burnt out (Daily Mail ), Andreas Lubitz copilot of Germanwings flight 4U9525 profile (The Guardian ), Germanwings CoPilot Andreas Lubitz Appears to Have Deliberately Crashed Plane (WSJ)