If there is one thing that stands out apart from the utter horror of the Germanwings crash, it is the speed with which the blame was placed on a pilot.
But less widely recognised is that this was inevitable when the air crash investigator, the BEA, handed over the transcript of the flight data recorder and other information to the French public prosecutor closest to the crash site, which was M Brice Robin in Marseille.
It was obliged to do so under French law, as would be the case in similar circumstances in the UK, the US and Australia.
Sovereign law officers are not bound by ICAO Annex 13 conventions or the protocols of an air crash investigation. They often make statements, sometimes in considerable detail, when they launch a criminal investigation, the more so it seems when the prima facie evidence involves someone, in this case a pilot, who will not stand trial for murder.
Sometimes, they will also cause controversy in doing this, a non aviation example in this country being the base and reckless political grandstanding that accompanied the original ASADA press conference concerning the Essendon football club, or for those with long memories, the onset of the original trial of Lindy Chamberlain for the alleged murder of her baby Azaria in 1982, which could have ended in the hanging of an innocent mother.
It is difficult to make a case that M Robin said anything so reckless as what was said in the Essendon doping controversy or the Dingo-took-my-Baby case. He was bound by the rules of his position to say something, especially after a leak of unknown source that had already appeared in the New York Times about the captain being locked out of the cockpit.
What he said was factual, but shocking, and that shock left many people inside and outside the airline industry reeling. He also drew attention to evidence he also had that the co-pilot had speeded up the Germanwings’ descent into the southern French alps on several occasions before impact, a factual claim now confirmed by the read out from the flight data recorder, as released by the BEA overnight, after it, like the rest of us, had seemed to be struck dumb by the Marseille prosecutor’s initial briefing.
It is argued that there is no case for withholding such criminal investigation information and that the relatives of the 150 dead needed to know what had happened as soon as it had been factually determined.
What else has happened since the truth about the locked out captain became known? Apart from the controversy over the now almost universal adoption of two-in-the-cockpit rules it has been admitted by Lufthansa, the owner of Germanwings, that it knew seriously troubling things about the mental health of the co-pilot, whose name doesn’t deserve to be published anymore than necessary and who allegedly craved future acknowledgment.
Lufthansa had up until the forensic work of the German media, largely invoked the same rules of medical privacy that apply in effect here, and right across world, as an explanation for it not knowing anything it could disclose to the media.
Any pretense that Lufthansa didn’t know of the co-pilot’s general condition is now gone. Lufthansa has a very real problem to address in regards to what it knew and how it handled it, even though the crash has created a far tougher and wider set of issues for all airlines to deal with.
The critical issue that burns from the pages of the European media and news reports concerns an airline allowing a pilot about which it had adverse information to continue to train and eventually fly as one of its pilots.
The terrible things that are known about the Germanwings crash would never have happened the way they happened if the co-pilot concerned had been dismissed on health grounds in response to his mental health issues.
In an ideal world, he would have done something else with his life, and not necessarily bad things, with the appropriate support and encouragement. Some very severe and confronting lessons come from the Germanwings disaster. But will they be learned and effectively acted upon?