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New Evidence Supports Theory That Lubitz Purposely Crashed Plane

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

There's new evidence today that the co-pilot of the Germanwings flight deliberately crashed it into the French Alps. Last week, the cockpit voice recorder indicated that the aircraft's captain had been locked out of the flight deck. Now a preliminary reading of the aircraft's flight data recorder confirms that the co-pilot set the controls for a rapid descent into the ground, killing all 150 people onboard. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: It was the piece of evidence they'd been searching for - the flight data recorder, which gives the details of the plane's operating systems and records the movement of its controls, had been found. Search crews dug up the device, blackened and damaged, but still readable, beneath rocks and rubble on Thursday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRICE ROBIN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Last night, the man heading the investigation, Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin, said the sound recorder would provide all the details of the flight from Barcelona until the crash. And today, the French crash investigation agency announced that the flight data recorder does show that the pilot in the cockpit used automatic pilot to descend to an altitude of 100 feet. The crash site is 6,000 feet above sea level, and investigators said the person in the cockpit accelerated the speed of that dissent by increasing it several times during the last eight minutes of the flight.

Marseille prosecutor Robin said more details would emerge as the two data boxes are synchronized. He underlined French investigators' conviction that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was conscious until the moment of impact because he appears to have acted repeatedly to stop an excessive speed alarm from sounding and his breathing can be heard throughout. In Germany, investigators are looking into Lubitz's mental state. What they're finding supports the physical evidence of the crash.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPH KUMPA: (Speaking German) Danach hat sich der Nutzer zum einen...

BEARDSLEY: Duesseldorf prosecutor spokesman Christoph Kumpa said Lubitz's computer shows he'd been researching cockpit door lock systems and ways to commit suicide. On Wednesday, the CEO of Lufthansa and its low-cost carrier Germanwings visited the crash site. The two men laid a wreath at a memorial in a field below the mountains. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said his company would do everything possible to help the families of the victims.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARSTEN SPOHR: We're just very, very sorry that such a terrible accident could have happened in Lufthansa where we put so much focus on safety.

BEARDSLEY: Lufthansa also admitted this week that Lubitz had told the company in an email in 2009 about his severe depression just before being readmitted to a pilot training program. Even before the crash, Lufthansa was struggling with pilot strikes, financial losses and increasing competition. Now it has to deal with a growing pile of evidence that it let a potentially dangerous person fly one of its passenger planes. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.