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"Suicide' pilot seemed happy

26 March 2015, 18:30

Montabaur - Andreas Lubitz first took to the skies as a teenage glider pilot flying from an idyllic grass runway in the hills of western Germany, and never showed any sign he was anything but thrilled to have landed a job with Germanwings, according to those who taught him the trade.

On Thursday, French prosecutors said Lubitz, the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525, "intentionally" crashed the jet into the side of a mountain.

Members of the hometown flight club in Montabaur, where he renewed his glider license only last fall, told The Associated Press on Thursday the 28-year-old appeared to be happy with the job he had at the airline, a low-cost carrier in the Lufthansa Group.

After starting his job with Germanwings in September 2013, Lubitz was upbeat when he returned to the LSC Westerwald e.V glider club in the fall to renew his glider pilots' license with 20 or so takeoffs.

"He has happy he had the job with Germanwings and he was doing well," said longtime club member Peter Ruecker, who watched him learn to fly. "He was very happy, he gave off a good feeling."

Club chairman Klaus Radke said he rejected Marseille prosecutors' conclusion that Lubitz put the Germanwings flight intentionally into a descent and dove it into the French Alps when the pilot had left the cockpit.

"I don't see how anyone can draw such conclusions before the investigation is completed," he told the AP.

At the house believed to be his parents', the curtains were drawn and four police cars were parked outside.

Police kept the media away from the door of the single-family two-story home in a prosperous new subdivision on the edge of Montabaur, a town about 60 kilometers (nearly 40 miles) northwest of Frankfurt surrounded by wooded hills.

Neighbors refused to comment, and police told journalists to stay away.

Lubitz learned to fly at the glider club in a sleek white ASK-21 two-seat glider, which sits in a small hangar today on the side of the facility's grass runway.

Ruecker said that he remembers Lubitz as "rather quiet but friendly" when he first showed up at the club as a 14- or 15-year-old saying he wanted to learn to fly.

On Thursday, a large hawk circled lazily over the runway using the same gentle updrafts that glider pilots use.

After obtaining his glider pilot's license as a teenager, he was accepted as a Lufthansa trainee after finishing the tough German abitur college preparatory school.

According to the airline, he trained in Bremen before starting to fly for Germanwings in September 2013. Ruecker said Lubitz also trained in Phoenix, Arizona. He had logged 630 hours' flight time by the time of the crash, the airline said.

Ruecker said Lubitz gave no indication during his fall visit to the club that anything was wrong. "He seemed very enthusiastic" about his career. "I can't remember anything where something wasn't right."

Ruecker said Lubitz had a girlfriend but did not have many more details about his life.

Lubitz's family could not immediately be reached, but a recently deleted Facebook page bearing Lubitz's name showed him as a smiling man in a dark brown jacket posing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in California.

Ruecker confirmed the photo was that of Lubitz.

The page, which was wiped from Facebook sometime in the past two days, said Lubitz was from Montabaur. It also lists him as having several aviation-themed interests, including the A320 — the model of plane that crashed Tuesday, Lufthansa, the German aviation company, and Phoenix Goodyear Airport, in Arizona.

The defunct Facebook page also included a link to a result in the 2011 Lufthansa half marathon in Frankfurt, where a runner with the nickname "flying_andy" ran a 1:48:51.

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- AP


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