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Can you Tell if your Co-pilot is About to Crash the Plane?

Posted on: Friday, March 27th, 2015

This week the news networks are awash with the terrifying story of Germanwings flight 9525 crashing into the French Alps in France killing all 150 passengers on board. Such tragedy can become numbing after many hours of listening to the details. In all the coverage some issues have emerged at the forefront. What was going on for co-pilot Andreas Lubitz and why did nobody clue in that he would do something so horrific.

As investigators comb through his home they have concluded that Andreas must have had an illness and was likely being treated for depression. They have further concluded that in 2008 he took a break in his training due to burnout. Finally, there is agreement that he kept his illness hidden from his employer, had been given time off work and was declared unfit by his doctor to fly that day.

Would psychological profiling have helped? Do pilots have to undergo examination prior to each flight? These solutions would certainly provide more employment for Calgary psychologists like myself but may not completely eliminate the risk. I am sure these measures will be implemented in due course.

I cannot imagine what the chief pilot must have been feeling in those last minutes of descent while banging on the cockpit door and knowing something was very wrong.

Could the chief pilot have figured out if something was off with his co-pilot that day? There are key issues that have the ability to push a person over the edge, regardless of mental illness (past or present). Men, especially, are likely to employ lethal means when attempting suicide. They are usually dealing with one or more of the following: failure, extreme shame and embarrassment, significant legal wrongdoing and prospect of being caught, sense of loss of control in their lives or a relationship breakup: the usual suspects.

So what can you ask your co-pilot (partner, co-worker or friend) especially if he is male?

  • How goes the battle?
  • How’s your wife/girlfriend/partner today?
  • After sharing a little about your own life with some degree of honesty – say, “how about you – what’s brewing?”

While men are less likely to open up they will likely give a different kind of response than usual when something significant is going on. It may just be a grunt or a sigh. Then you can say, ‘let me buy you a beer when we land in Athens.’

Major changes to the airline industry are up ahead, but when it comes down to it, being attentive to the guy next to us is everyone’s responsibility.

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