TORONTO – The news of the deliberate crashing of Germanwings Flight 9525 is heartbreaking and stunning. But this isn’t the first time a pilot is believed to have taken many others to their premature deaths while taking his own life.
According to the Aviation Safety Network database, there have been eight incidents of pilot suicide on commercial airliners since 1976.
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The most recent was in November 2013. Mozambique Airlines Flight 470 departed from Maputo International Airport in Mozambique, headed for Luanda Airport in Angola. On board were 27 passengers and six crew. The Embraer ERJ-190 is a small plane. The flight departed Maputo at 11:26 a.m. local time. At 1:09 local time, the plane began a sudden descent until the airplane crashed at 1:26 p.m.
Investigators found that minutes before the crash, the co-pilot left to use the bathroom. The cockpit voice recorder could hear someone — believed to be the co-pilot — attempting to gain entry into the cockpit.
The most deadly crash believed to be due to pilot suicide was in October 1999. Egypt Air Flight 990 took off from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport en route to Cairo International Airport.
The flight originated from Los Angeles International Airport, making a stop at JFK to pick up a relief crew. It cleared for takeoff around 1:19 a.m. local time. After it levelled off at 1:48 a.m., the captain left the cockpit. Then, seconds later, the voice recorder picked up the relief first officer — still in the cockpit — saying, “I rely on God.” About a minute later, the autopilot was disconnected and the first officer repeated “I rely on God” and then put the plane in a nose-down position. The first officer repeated his statement an additional seven times before the captain entered the cabin asking what was happening.
At one point, the aircraft’s load factor went from 1 G to 0.2 G — almost weightlessness. The captain tried to regain control of the aircraft, eventually asking the first officer to help him pull the plane up. However, data indicated that only one of the plane’s elevators (at the rear, which control the aircraft’s nose-up or nose-down position) was in the nose-up position. Eventually, both the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder stopped recording. However, radar data indicated that the plane did climb and change heading before eventually crashing into the Atlantic Ocean. (The Egyptian government disputed the National Transportation Safety Board’s two-year investigation which concluded that the plane’s loss of altitude was intentional.)
In 1997, Silk Air Flight MI 185 en route from Jakarta, Indonesia, to Singapore crashed after the plane changed from cruising altitude to a rapid descent when the first officer left the flight deck. Investigators concluded that the Boeing 737’s rapid descent was “consistent with sustained manual nose-down flight control inputs,” meaning that the aircraft was intentionally put into a dive. It also concluded that the recorders were also intentionally turned off and that it was “more likely that the nose-down flight control inputs were made by the captain than by the first officer.” All 104 people on board were killed when the plane broke up mid-air — likely due to the rapid descent — and then crashed into the Musi river delta.
In total — not including the loss of lives on the Germanwings flight — there have been 416 deaths attributed to pilot suicide.