By Daniel Wallis
(Reuters) - Americans fear pilots purposely crashing an airliner as much as they are afraid of a hijacking, and over a quarter are more scared of flying than they were before a copilot crashed a jet in France last week, killing 150 people, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found.
Andreas Lubitz, who prosecutors said had been previously treated for suicidal tendencies, is suspected of locking the captain out of the cockpit and deliberately plunging a Germanwings aircraft into a mountain in the French Alps, killing everyone on board.
In an online Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted days after the crash, 37 percent said they worried about suicidal or disturbed pilots, the same number as those who said they were concerned a plane would be hijacked.
In addition, 27 percent reported an increased fear of flying after the Germanwings disaster, while 62 percent said their feelings were unchanged. Five percent said they had changed travel plans as a result, and 9 percent said they were considering doing so.
"I just got a little scared," said Bi-Kemba J. Wright, a 42-year-old workers compensation claims adjuster from Pasadena, California, who was about to buy a ticket to visit relatives in Alabama but changed his mind after what happened in France.
"I'm pretty sure that, statistics-wise, there's probably only air crashes every hundreds of thousands of miles. But you could be on that one flight and become part of a tragedy."
Of those who changed their travel plans, 30 percent said they had canceled a flight and would not travel at all, while 18 percent said they would switch airlines.
Such fears are a natural reaction to such a high-profile tragedy, and some might stop flying for a while as happened following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, said clinical psychologist and fear of flying expert Dr. Martin Seif.
"Anybody who has any degree of empathy and starts to think about this possibility becomes more concerned about it," Seif said. "It's an ordinary response ... but in two or three months, people are not going to be thinking about this anymore."
Among factors contributing to Americans' fear of flying, mechanical issues with the plane ranked highest, cited by 53 percent of respondents. Terrorism or attempts to crash the aircraft followed at 44 percent, while turbulence or bad weather placed third at 41 percent.
The poll surveyed 1,665 Americans from March 27-30. The data was weighted to reflect the U.S. population and has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis in Denver; Editing by Alan Crosby)