The horror of the Germanwings suicide-mass murder hits me with particular force because I went through a similar nightmare myself, and because I know very well the exact Alpine area where the doomed airliner crashed.
The passengers aboard the ill-fated German A320 aircraft must have had 3-5 minutes warning that something was terrible wrong. The aircraft’s captain was locked out of the cockpit and trying to break down its armored door. The aircraft was going into a dive.
As a constant flier since the age of six, to me their plight is one of the worst nightmares associated with flying. I know the sense of utter helplessness and terror they felt.
In 1993, two friends and I were on a Lufthansa A310 flight from Frankfurt to Cairo. A lone Ethiopian smuggled a pistol aboard and got into the cockpit by threatening to begin killing the flight crew. Once inside, he held the pistol to the pilot’s head and ordered him to fly to New York City. We stopped for fuel at Hanover, then headed over the North Atlantic.
By some quirk, we could overhear on the entertainment system the hijacker talking to the FBI in New York. Endless hours went by as many of the passengers screamed, prayed and cried. My friends and I wanted to jump the hijacker and kill him but he would not come out of the cockpit.
As we neared New York, we heard the hijacker threaten to crash our plane into Wall Street unless he was pardoned and given US residency – his goal in this mad enterprise. The danger posed to high rise buildings by large aircraft did not emerge again until 9/11 2001.
We felt utter helplessness and horror until we landed in New York and the FBI stormed the plane. I broadcasted for 24 hours straight, then got an Egyptair flight to Cairo.
It seems clear that the Germanwings second pilot was determined to kill himself and 149 innocent passengers. I’ve been a voice in the wilderness for decades calling on airlines to keep a third pilot or flight engineer in the cockpit. I’m usually bombarded by airline pros claiming automation has eliminated the need for a third crew member.