The German Wings air disaster got a lot more mysterious last night after The New York Times broke the news that an official with close knowledge of the investigation says the pilot was locked out of the cockpit before the plane crashed into a mountain in the French Alps.
The information, according to the paper, is coming from the newly retrieved cockpit voice recorder.
The direct quote from The Times reads as such: “A senior military official involved in the investigation described “very smooth, very cool” conversation between the pilots during the early part of the flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf. Then the audio indicated that one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter.
“The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door and there is no answer,” the investigator said. “And then he hits the door stronger and no answer. There is never an answer.”
He said, “You can hear he is trying to smash the door down.”
It is however, supposed to be a failsafe system where the door can be unlocked from the outside after going through an emergency procedure of which the pilots and flight attendants are taught.
The person on the outside would have to enter an emergency code which opens the door in 30 seconds.
“It can be disabled from inside. You enable the door from the code and then you can come in. If the pilot was incapacitated you would be able to open the door. If he didn’t want you to come in as you said he would lock it and that lock switch is a spring loaded switch and goes back to the normal position after you momentarily put it in lock.”
However, according to the manual, the person on the inside of the cockpit can continue to deny entrance if they hold the switch, located on the instrument panel, in the locked position.
Peter Goelz, the former National Transportation Safety Board Managing Director told CNN’s Tom Foreman that the reinforced door and the new procedure were adopted after the 9-11 tragedy.
“This was an issue that was greatly debated after 9-11 Tom in which they said how do we prevent the crew and the aircraft from, preventing a 9-11 from being replicated and there were discussions about maybe we should have a key or a code, an emergency code that you randomly give to one of the cabin crew members, where somebody could get in. Why didn’t they do that? They didn’t because they felt there was no way that that kind of procedure could be kept secret.”
If the reporting is accurate, the failsafe procedure may have worked too well because the one person who really needed to get into the cockpit was the one person who couldn’t, and 150 people may have lost their lives because of it.