At just after 10 o’clock on the morning of March 24th, budget airline Germanwings flight 9525 departed Barcelona for Dusseldorf. Germanwings is a low-cost airline owned by the highly reputable Lufthansa.
Just 30 minutes into its journey, after having just passed into French airspace Flight 9525 began an unplanned descent at a rate of 58 feet/second for just under 10 minutes. The plane impacted into the southern French Alps, killing all 144 passengers and 6 crew.
It goes without saying that the tremendous loss of life resulting from the crash of a commercial airliner is tragic. What has made the case of Flight 9525 both tragic and shocking are the circumstances behind the crash.
The reason that has been determined for the flight’s non-nonsensical descent were quickly answered. Shortly after takeoff 34 year old pilot Patrick Sondenheimer exited the cockpit, for what is assumed to use the toilet. When Captain Sondheimer returned he found the code to enter the cockpit failed to open the door. Since 9/11 cockpits are now nigh on impregnable from the outside. The only way to change the code is from inside the cockpit where Co-pilot, 27 year old Andreas Lubitz was now solely at the controls of the flight. What followed, despite the best wishes in the world, is that Lubitz deliberately, and apparently with significant pre-meditation crashed the aircraft into the side of the mountain Tête de l’Estrop, in the French Alps.
One of the few things I remember having studied at University during my first year was the subject of suicide. In particular Emile Durkheim’s theory of suicide. Unfortunately I was at this time, but unknown to me, entering a bout of serious depression. For me studying suicide was rather like handing a pyromaniac a flamethrower.
To be honest the work of Durkheim is to this day the only thing I recall studying in my first year at university, but that was 21 years ago.
In 1897 the French sociologist Emile Durkheim published his groundbreaking and sublimely titled book Le Suicidé. Whilst he may not have put much thought into its title, Durkheim’s study was pioneering as it objectively, even scientifically observed a topic still considered rather taboo in today’s society. Durkheim identified 4 types of suicide.
Durkheim defines suicide as follows:
…the term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result.
Essentially Durkheim believed that every suicide could be categorized as having occurred for one of those four reasons, and owing to the broadness with which they may be interpreted Durkheim is right.
The case of Flight 9525 and Andreas Lubitz is, thankfully an anomaly that Durkheim never envisaged. It is still early days in the process of gathering all the information into what might have been going through Andreas Lubitz’s troubled mind, but the term that is being bandied around by many news networks is murder suicide.
Now by far the majority of murder suicides involve a man and his spouse, usually jealousy is the key ingredient however on 13th August 2014, a couple in their 70’s were found shot dead in an apparent murder suicide. A key difference in this case is that it appeared to be a pact, with both of the victims having consented. To see a report click the link below:
Today, 4th April 2015, CNN are reporting a murder suicide of a couple on a cruise ship as it was docked in Puerto Rico.
In 2008 the BBC reported a suspected murder suicide when a father smothered his two young children aged 3 and 14 months and then hanged himself.
Again whilst the same term, murder suicide is being applied to all these cases, it is difficult to see the similarity given both the disproportionate number of lives taken and that Andreas Lubitz had no known relationships to any of his 149 victims. It seems to me that the media are desperate to attribute a label to this tragedy and have found one they feel fits best, even though after a little research it is clear to see that this case is incredibly unique and does not fit any predetermined label.
It has also been discovered that Andreas Lubniz had sought treatment for depression. Whilst I agree that there are some jobs that should the employee be suffering from depression would require their suspension and reassignment to a different role for as long as a psychiatrist deems necessary.
The actions of Andreas Lubitz have understandably shocked the world, but is it right to label it murder suicide? The overwhelming majority of murder suicide cases involve couples with intimate knowledge of one another, this varies wildly from the circumstances of flight 9525. By being so quick to look for reasons and labels for this accident the media may soon stigmatize a large number of people who suffer from mental illnesses.
If we are not careful we might end up labeling any sufferer of a mental illness as potentially capable of carrying out an action similar to that of Andreas Lubitz. Although statistically there is absolutely no evidence to support this line of thought, it is not unreasonable for the average person to read that he was depressed and therefore attribute his illness as the reason for the tragedy.
Once again the media have produced a theory that quickly fits the circumstances, but more importantly helped to sell newspapers. Thankfully Durkheim was right and the majority of all suicides remain a very personal and private act.