Germanwings A320 crash: other cases of pilots locked out of cockpits

Image Credit: Lewis Smith / flickr
Image Credit: Lewis Smith / flickr

French authorities in charged of the Germanwings crash investigation believe one of the pilots deliberately locked the door of the cockpit to crash the plane in the Alpes. This unforeseen development is unfortunately not the first time it happens.

In January 2015, Delta flight number 1651, flying from Minneapolis, had to land in emergency at McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas. At that time, only one pilot was in control of the plane. The other one ‘was not able to re-enter the flight deck because of a door jam’ explained the airline. All pilots are trained to land on their own, no further incident was thus reported.

A year ago, in May 2014, a captain of Air New Zealand closed off the door after an argument with his co-pilots over a take-off delay. He remained alone for two minutes in the cockpit before opening the door. Both received a specific training course to learn how to handle this kind of tension.

Just like the others and more disturbingly, Ethiopian Airline Boeing 767-300ER co-pilot waited for his colleague to take a break to hijack the plane. Instead of landing in Milan, he ended up in Geneva. The co-pilot was seeking for political asylum. Since he was turned down, he hung himself out of the aircraft window.

Where there are similarities with the A320 crash is the Mozambique Airline flight. On November 29, 2013, Captain Herminio dos Santos Fernandez deliberately changed the flight settings when his co-pilot left the cockpit. The investigations concluded that he had a ‘clear intention’ to kill himself and the passengers. Thirty-three people died in the tragedy.

The first problem of a locked cockpit door happened in August 2005. The 14th day of the month, a technical problem occurred in the Helios Airways Flight 522. The plane ran out of oxygen, leaving both pilots unconscious. A steward with a portable oxygen bottle tried to knock down the cockpit door when he succeeded to get inside, it was too late. The airplane ran out of fuel and crashed into Greek waters.

Looking at those events, all involving the cockpit door system, it is worth wondering why no drastic measures were decided? How is it still possible for someone to so easily take control of an airplane?

Since the Germanwings A320 crashed, the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) required European airline companies to make at all times mandatory the presence of two people in the cockpit. Some airlines like Norwegian Air Shuttle or Icelandair have immediately implemented this procedure. Air France is also thinking about it.


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