MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) — Families of the Germanwings crash victims say they are still waiting for an apology from those they believe failed to prevent the crash that claimed the lives of 150 people almost a year ago.
In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, the father of 33-year-old Hewlett-Packard employee Sven Fischenich expressed anger at the airline's refusal to acknowledge that it should have stopped a pilot with a history of mental illness from taking control of a plane.
"When something happens in a company, the person at the top is responsible, even if he wasn't directly involved himself," said Juergen Fischenich, 62. "Mr. Spohr or Mr. Winkelmann need to apologize, at least," he said, referring to former Germanwings boss Thomas Winkelmann and Carsten Spohr, the CEO of parent company Lufthansa.
Sven Fischenich, a volunteer firefighter and active member of the Kornblumenblau Carnival society in Wesseling, near Cologne, was returning from a business trip to Barcelona when the co-pilot slammed the plane into a French mountainside.
France's air accident investigation agency BEA is releasing its final report on the crash Sunday, a day after briefing relatives in Spain and Germany where most of the victims came from.
A preliminary report published in May found the co-pilot of Flight 9525 to Duesseldorf, Andreas Lubitz, practiced sending the jet into a deadly descent hours before the crash, suggesting his actions were premeditated.
Lubitz had previously been treated for depression and suicidal tendencies, and documents seized by prosecutors show he partly hid his medical history from employers.
Germanwings and Lufthansa have strongly denied wrongdoing, insisting that the 27-year-old was certified fit to fly.
But relatives of those killed have pointed to a string of people they say could have raised the alarm and stopped Lubitz, going back to the days when he began training as a pilot in 2008.
"I think it's extremely negligent that he went to x-number of doctors and none of them were able to say anything," said Fischenich who, like his son, works in the print business.
Lubitz interrupted his Lufthansa training for several months due to psychological problems. He was allowed to return in 2009, having received the "all clear" from his doctors — though his aviation record now contained the note "SIC" meaning "specific regular examination." Lufthansa said after the crash that it was aware of the depressive episode, but Germanwings, which he joined in 2013, said it had no knowledge of his illness.
The discrepancy has been partly blamed on Germany's confidentiality laws, which prevent sensitive personal information from being widely shared. But lawyers for the victims' families have questioned whether important records were available to all who should have known within the Lufthansa group, especially flight instructors who could have monitored Lubitz more closely during his formative period. Among those instructors were staff at a flight school in Arizona where Lubitz completed four months of training before getting his pilot's license.
"What's their responsibility? They have to take care of their equipment and they have to ensure that their staff is able to fly an aircraft. And they didn't meet that responsibility, it's sad to say," said Elmar Giemulla, a German lawyer who represents dozens of victims' families.
In the months before the crash, Lubitz visited 41 doctors, mainly eye specialists. None warned his employer or authorities that Lubitz might be too ill to fly, although the law allows doctors to suspend patient privacy if they believe there is a danger to the person's safety or that of others.
Just how desperate Lubitz was became clear after the crash, when investigators searched his home and found evidence he had gone online to research suicide methods. The search terms included "which poison kills painlessly," ''cyanide" and "cockpit door/code."
Half an hour into the flight on March 24, 2015, Capt. Patrick Sondenheimer handed the controls to Lubitz and went to the restroom. When he returned Sondenheimer found the cockpit locked from the inside. Lubitz, it seems, had disabled the safety code that would have allowed the pilot to open the door.
Shortly afterward, the Airbus A320 hit the ground near the village of Le Vernet.
The BEA report is expected to make recommendations to authorities and airlines around the world to prevent similar incidents.
For many families, the biggest hope of holding someone to account lies in taking Lufthansa to court. Their frustration is heightened by the fact that the company has offered little more than the standard compensation required under German law — 25,000 euros ($27,560) for each victim — plus 10,000 euros to each of the victims' immediate relatives.
Some 80 families are now planning to file a civil suit in the United States targeting the ATCA flight school in Arizona, a wholly owned Lufthansa subsidiary. If successful the case could result in payouts many times what the families would be eligible for in Germany.
Fischenich said he was at home looking after his son's 4-month-old daughter when first news of the crash appeared on television.
"I would like to have as much money as possible for my little granddaughter and daughter-in-law," said Fischenich.
"Without the negligence on Lufthansa's part my son wouldn't have died like this. It wasn't just an accident. This was a crash where Lufthansa's safety mechanisms failed," he said.
Lufthansa declined repeated requests for comment. Since the crash, the airline has replaced its Germanwings brand with the name Eurowings.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.
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