The final moments of Germanwings Flight 9525, as described by a French prosecutor, are chilling.
The captain locked out of the cockpit. The co-pilot initiating a descent and not opening the door. The passengers unaware of what was happening until moments before impact. The co-pilot’s silence and steady breathing as the Airbus A320 dipped into the French Alps.
It was a deliberate attempt “to destroy the aircraft” by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said Thursday – what some may call suicide by plane.
The deliberate downing of a plane is a rare occurrence, but it has happened before.
According to the Aviation Safety Network, five commercial plane crashes since 1976 are believed to have been the intentional work of the pilot.
The most well-known incident may be the 1999 crash of EgyptAir Flight 990. The 767 jet, en route to Cairo from New York City, made a rapid descent – plunging almost 14,000 feet in 36 seconds – and crashed off the Massachusetts coast.
Investigators found that the pilot had left the cockpit, and that the crash was the result of the co-pilot’s actions. The investigators could not determine why the co-pilot made the plane go down, but it is believed to have been a suicide. Egyptian officials have denied that accusation, and blamed a mechanical error.
Here is a list, via Aviation Safety Network, of the crashes believed or suspected to have been caused intentionally by pilots:
Mozambique Airlines Flight 470 (November 29, 2013)
The lives of 27 passengers and six crew members were lost when the plane crashed in the Bwabwata game park in northeastern Namibia.
The plane started losing altitude at 38,000 feet and went down swiftly, Namibia’s Civil Aviation Department told CNN when the crash happened.
The flight was en route from Maputo, Mozambique, to Angola.
According to ASN, the crash happened after the co-pilot left the cockpit to go to the bathroom. The captain then manually changed the plane’s settings to begin the rapid descent, ASN reported.
The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of someone pounding on the cockpit door, according to ASN. The reasons behind the captain’s actions remain unknown.
EgyptAir Flight 990 (October 31, 1999)
As described above, this crash also happened after the captain had left the cockpit for the restroom. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that after the captain left, the co-pilot is heard repeating “I rely on god” and moving the throttling levers to begin a steep descent.
All 202 passengers and 15 crew were killed when the plane crashed into the ocean.
The NTSB’s conclusion was that the co-pilot was responsible for the crash, but it could not say definitively why he made the plane crash.
Air Botswana (October 11, 1999)
This incident was not a commercial flight.
According to ASN, an Air Botswana pilot who had been grounded for medical reasons boarded a plane and took off. Once in the air, he made several demands, including to speak with the country’s President. Attempts were made to negotiate with him, ASN reported, but the pilot stated he was going to crash into other planes that were parked at the airport. That’s what he did. He was the only fatality in the incident.
SilkAir Flight 185 (December 19, 1997)
SilkAir Flight 185 was returning from Jakarta to Singapore when it suddenly made a steep descent from its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet and crashed, killing all 104 people on board.
Preliminary indications were that the pilot had committed suicide, but the Indonesian government’s final report on the incident said it could not determine the cause of the crash.
The NTSB, however, published its own report, which concluded that the crash was a deliberate act by the pilot.
The NTSB said that “no airplane-related mechanical malfunctions or failures caused or contributed to the accident” and “the accident airplane’s flight profile is consistent with sustained nose-down manual flight control inputs.”
It is rare for the NTSB to publicly dissent with the results of another investigation, and the report showed its sharp disagreement with the Indonesian authorities.
Royal Air Maroc Flight 630 (August 21, 1994)
Carrying 40 passengers and four crew members, Royal Air Maroc Flight 630 departed from Agadir en route to Casablanca. About 10 minutes after takeoff, according to ASN, the plane lost control and crashed into the Atlas mountains.
The pilot was said to have disconnected the autopilot and flown the plane into the mountain on purpose, ASN reported. The Moroccan Pilot’s Union denied that the pilot would have done that deliberately.