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Germanwings crash: Pilot suicide has caused at least five aircraft accidents since 1976

Rescatistas revisan los escombros en el sitio donde un avión de la aerolínea Germanwings se estrelló cerca de Seyne-les-Alpes, Francia, el miércoles 25 de marzo de 2015. (Foto AP/Laurent Cipriani)

Rescatistas revisan los escombros en el sitio donde un avión de la aerolínea Germanwings se estrelló cerca de Seyne-les-Alpes, Francia, el miércoles 25 de marzo de 2015. (Foto AP/Laurent Cipriani)

The latest aerial tragedy brought about deliberately in Southern France by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was one of several confirmed or suspected suicides by plane in the last 40 years.

The Aviation Safety Network lists a total of eight cases since 1976, although only five have been confirmed.

Of these five, two were Russian pilots who stole the planes and crashed them — in 1979 and 1994, respectively. Another case occurred in 1979 in Colombia, one in Botswana in 1999 and another in Morocco in 1994. 

The ASN, which belongs to the international non-profit organization Flight Safety Foundation, includes in the list the 1999 New York City Egypt Air tragedy as a non-conclusive suicide.

Here is the full list of airliner accidents involving possible or rumored pilot suicide compiled by the ASN:

RUSSIA

Sept. 26,  1976 – 12 fatalities

A pilot stole an Antonov 2 airplane directed his aircraft into the block of flats in Novosibirsk, the third most populous city in Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg, where his divorced wife lived. The man and 11 residents were killed—but the wife was not among them.

COLOMBIA

Aug. 22, 1979 - 4 fatalities

A 23-year-old mechanic stole a military aircraft HS-748 and crashed into a Bogotá suburb, shortly after takeoff. He was killed, along with three people on the ground. The man had been fired from his post after working at the airport for two years.

RUSSIA

July 13, 1994 – 1 fatality

An Air Force engineer stole an Antonov 26 in Bashkortostan, in the former Soviet Union, to commit suicide. The aircraft crashed when it ran out of fuel.

MOROCCO

Aug. 21, 1994 – 44 fatalities

A Royal Air Maroc ATR-42 airplane crashed in the Atlas Mountains shortly after takeoff from Agadir, Morocco. The investigation suggested the accident was caused by the captain, who disconnected the autopilot and directed the aircraft to the ground. The Moroccan pilots union challenged these findings.

INDONESIA

Dec. 19, 1997 – 104 fatalities

Silk Air Flight 185, a Boeing 737 en route from Jakarta, Indonesia to Singapore, crashed in Indonesia following a rapid descent from cruising altitude. While Indonesian authorities were not able to determine the cause of the accident, the NTSB suggested that the captain committed suicide by "switching off both flight recorders and intentionally putting the plane in a dive, possibly when the copilot had left the cockpit," the ASN report stated. According to the investigation, in the months before the crash the captain experienced multiple work-related difficulties and significant financial hardship.

BOSTWANA

Oct. 11, 1999 – 1 fatality

An Air Botswana captain on sick leave boarded an ATR-42 aircraft parked on the Gaborone airport and took off. Shortly afterward he reported to the controller that he wanted to speak to the country's president, the Air Botswana's general manager and his girlfriend, among others. The president was out of the country, so arrangements were being made for him to speak to the vice president. After flying for about two hours, he did two loops and then crashed at 200 knots into two other ATR-42s parked on the runway.

 

UNITED STATES

Oct. 31, 1999 – 217 fatalities

Egypt Air Flight 990, a Boeing 767, entered a rapid descent some 30 minutes after departure from New York-JFK Airport. The investigation suggested the accident was caused "by a deliberate act by the relief first officer." However, there was no conclusive evidence and suggestions of a deliberate act were heavily disputed by Egyptian authorities.

NAMIBIA

Nov. 29, 2013 – 33 fatalities

LAM Flight 470 went into a rapid descent while en route between Maputo and Luanda and crashed in Namibia. Preliminary investigation results indicate that the accident was intentional. There is evidence that the captain "manually changed the altitude pre-selector from 38,000 feet to an altitude of 4,288 feet. This was changed to 1,888 feet and then to 592 feet," according to ASN report. During the descent the captain used the speed brake handle to activate the spoilers. One the cockpit voice recorder sounds were heard of someone pounding on the cockpit door.

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