Patrick Sonderheimer has been identified as the captain of the crashed Germanwings Flight 9525, which the French prosecutor says was intentionally brought down by Sonderheimer’s co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, in the French Alps, killing all 144 passengers and six crew members, including three Americans.
The plane was headed March 24 from Barcelona, Spain to Dusseldorf, Germany, and crashed about 70 miles away from Nice, France. The crash happened just after the last normal contact with air traffic control and not long after the plane had reached its cruising altitude.
Sonderheimer and Lubitz are both from Germany.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sonderheimer Was Locked Out of the Cockpit
The New York Times reports that the plane’s captain, Sonderheimer, was trying to break down the cockpit door before the crash. The Times reports that an audio recording on the plane reveals Sonderheimer left the cockpit and then was not able to return. An investigator, whose name was not released, told the Times:
The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door, and there is no answer. And then he hits the door stronger, and no answer. There is never an answer. You can hear he is trying to smash the door down. We don’t know yet the reason why one of the guys went out. But what is sure is that at the very end of the flight, the other pilot is alone and does not open the door.
French officials said the captain left the cockpit to use the bathroom.
“He waited for the aircraft to reach a certain flight level,” Lufthansa Airlines CEO Carsten Spohr. He said the airline’s policy allows for the captain to leave the cockpit to use the bathroom or for other reasons, and it is typically done during a time of low stress.
Spohr said Lubitz was trained to fly the plane.
2. French Officials Say Sonderheimer’s Co-Pilot Was Alive Before the Crash
French Prosecutor Brice Robin said during a press conference Thursday that co-pilot Andrea Lubitz, a 28-year-old German, deliberately crashed the plane. He could be heard breathing normally and not allowing Sonderheimer back into the cockpit.
Lubitz appeared to initiate the plane’s descent, the prosecutor said.
Germanwings officials said it is possible for someone to completely block access to the cockpit on the Airbus A320.
“It’s obvious this co-pilot took advantage of the commander’s absence. Could he have known he would leave? It is too early to say,” Robin said at a press conference.
According to the Times, there were normal conversations heard on the cockpit audio recorder prior to the captain leaving. Robin said the co-pilot’s responses sounded “curt” during a discussion about the planned landing of the plane in Dusseldorf.
3. Sonderheimer Had Been a Pilot for More Than 10 Years
Germany’s largest newspaper, Bild, reported that the pilot, identified only as Patrick S. in its report, had more than 10 years experience with Lufthansa and Germanwings, with more than 6,000 flight hours.
According to the Telegraph, Sonderheimer started as a pilot with Lufthansa and Condor, before joining Germanwings in 2014.
Germanwings and Condor are partners of Lufthansa. He was trained at Lufthansa Flight Training School in Germany.
4. He Was Known as One of the Company’s ‘Best’ Pilots
A colleague, identified as “Dieter,” told Europe1 that Sonderheimer was a trusted pilot, saying:
He was someone very reliable, he was one of the best pilots we had. I am 100 percent sure they did the best they could. That’s what I think because I knew him very well, he was one of the best, he had a lot of experience, he had more than 6,000 flight hours behind him.
5. He Was the Father of 2 Children
According to Bild and Europe1, Sonderheimer was married and the father of two children. His co-worker, Dieter, told Europe 1 that Sonderheimer was a “good man” with a nice sense of humor.