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Germanwings pilot rehearsed descent on previous flight, investigators say

Co-pilot rehearsed manoeuvre on outbound flight – BEAAutopilot briefly reset to take jet to 100 feetCaptain had left cabin, as on fatal return flightDoctors twice refused to renew medical certificate in 2009

 The Germanwings co-pilot suspected of deliberately crashing a jet in the French Alps rehearsed the fatal manoeuvre on the morning of the disaster, and had twice been refused medical papers needed to fly, investigators said on Wednesday.

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The French BEA accident investigation agency said the co-pilot had five times set the autopilot to take the Airbus down to just 100 feet while the captain was out of the cockpit on the outbound flight to Barcelona from Duesseldorf.

But the brief twists of an altitude dial, mimicking those which crashed the A320 on its way back to the German city 2-3 hours later, would not have been noticed by passengers or controllers because they were quickly reversed and were masked by the fact that the jet had already started an authorised descent, the BEA said.

A preliminary report on the return flight that crashed on March 24, killing all 150 people on board, confirmed a growing picture of painstaking preparations carried out by the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz.

“I can’t speculate on what was happening inside his head; all I can say is that he changed this button to the minimum setting of 100 feet and he did it several times,” said Remi Jouty, director of the French BEA accident investigation agency.

“These very brief actions on the previous flight were a sort of rehearsal of the manoeuvre,” he said.

Digging into data and cockpit recordings recovered from the jet’s “black boxes”, the BEA gave the most detailed picture so far on what happened in the cockpit of return flight 9525.

The 27-year-old co-pilot was in charge of flying the plane on the return leg, a routine practice that allows pilots to build up experience. 

Shortly after the A320 reached cruise height, the captain told Lubitz he was leaving the cockpit and asked him to take over the radio, the BEA said. No reason was given, but Jouty noted it is normal for pilots to leave the cockpit to go to the toilet, for example. 

Just over 30 seconds after the door closed, leaving Lubitz alone in the cockpit for the second time that day, he entered the instruction he had rehearsed.

By turning a dial, he ordered the plane’s autopilot to descend to 100 feet, the BEA said. This was the lowest setting possible and enough to crash into mountains ahead. He then altered another dial to speed the jet up.

The report listed numerous warnings that went unanswered as the jet sped lower. These included four attempts to reach him from outside the cockpit by interphone and a crescendo of calls and knocks that ended with “violent blows” on the door.

As the jet steadily lost height, Marseille air traffic controllers tried 11 times to contact the Germanwings jet. Just over two minutes before the crash the French military weighed in, trying three times to contact the crew on an emergency frequency, followed by a call from another plane.

Finally the aircraft’s ground-proximity warning system kicked into life, urging the co-pilot to “pull up”.

Medical rebuff 

Reviewing Lubitz’s training and career, the BEA said his professional level was judged to be “above standard”. However, it said the aeromedical centre of Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, twice refused to renew his medical certificate in 2009 when he was undergoing treatment for depression.

Lubitz broke off his pilot training from November 2008 to August 2009 due to his illness.

After gaining a certificate in July 2009, Lubitz’s pilot’s licence, which is always valid for one year only, contained a note requiring aeromedical doctors to contact licensing authorities before the certificate could be extended or renewed.

Investigators in Germany have found torn-up sick notes, including for the day of the crash, indicating that Lubitz was concealing an illness from his employers. They also uncovered Internet searches made by Lubitz in the week before the tragedy on suicide methods and cockpit door security. 

The German government plans to name a former diplomat, Steffen Rudolph, as an ombudsman for relatives of the victims, government sources told Reuters. 

The BEA will issue a final report in about a year that may include recommendations on cockpit doors and the handling of pilots’ medical records by the airline industry. The French agency declined to speculate on any recommendations but said it would examine the balance to be struck between medical confidentiality and air safety.

It promised also to look at where to draw the line between the need to prevent possible attacks by passengers and the need to prevent a repeat of incidents such as the Germanwings crash. 

Cockpit doors were specially strengthened to protect pilots after the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

The BEA said it had found six previous accidents since 1980 in which deliberate actions by crew may have played a part. 

These included a remarkably similar crash of an Embraer 190 jet in Namibia in 2013 in which 33 people died after the co-pilot left the captain alone in the cockpit. The jet was ordered to the ground by changing autopilot altitude settings.

On at least two other occasions, there were two pilots in the cockpit but one was not able to counter the other’s actions.

Many airlines have recently made it compulsory to have two people in the cockpit to help prevent accidents, but Jouty said accident records suggested this would not be an automatic cure.

(Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan and Andreas Rinke in Berlin.; Editing by James Regan, Andrew Callus and David Stamp)

 

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Hiring by US businesses slows: survey

US companies hired in April at the slowest pace in nearly a year and a half, a private survey has found, as the strong US dollar dragged down overseas sales and energy companies cut back on spending in the face of lower oil prices.

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Payroll processor ADP said on Wednesday that businesses added just 169,000 jobs in April, down from 175,000 in the previous month. That was the fewest since January 2014. March’s total was revised down from 189,000.

The weak showing could raise fears that the economy is slipping into a period of sluggish growth, after expanding at a healthy pace for most of last year. A big increase in the trade gap, reported Tuesday, means the economy probably shrank in the first quarter.

That could weigh on job gains. Employers added just 126,000 jobs in March, according to the government’s data, the fewest in 15 months.

April’s jobs report will be released Friday, and economists forecast hiring rebounded to 220,000 last month. But the disappointing ADP figures suggest that hiring could remain sluggish.

Many economists discounted the report, however, because the ADP survey has a spotty track record of forecasting the official figures.

It covers only private businesses and sometimes diverges from the government’s more comprehensive report.

Analysts note that other job market data, such as the low level of applications for unemployment benefits, indicate that Friday’s job gains should be healthy.

“The ADP is no fortune teller,” Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas, said in a note to clients.

Hiring in April fell sharply among large companies with more than 500 workers, according to ADP. They added just 5,000 jobs, the fewest in six months.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, blamed the shortfall mostly on the US dollar’s strength, which makes large companies’ exports more expensive overseas.

The US dollar has risen about 15 per cent in value against a basket of other currencies in the past year. Moody’s helps compile the ADP data.

The strong US dollar has also hit factories, which shed 10,000 jobs last month, the most in more than five years, according to ADP.

Falling oil prices have also slowed manufacturing, as energy companies cut orders for steel pipe and other machinery needed for drilling.

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Mesmeric Messi nets double as Barca romp past Bayern

After Barca had been frustrated by the brilliance of Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for most of the match, Messi fired home after 77 minutes and then doubled the lead with a delightful chip from six metres three minutes later.

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Neymar completed a resounding late burst from the hosts when he raced clear and slotted calmly home in stoppage time.

It was a disappointing evening for Bayern coach Pep Guardiola on his return to his former club.

He had warned before the game that it was impossible to stop his former prodigy Messi and it proved the case as the Argentine orchestrated Barcelona’s emphatic victory that gives them a clear advantage heading into next week’s second leg.

“When Messi is inspired he is unstoppable and tonight he showed his talent again,” Barcelona centre back Gerard Pique told Spanish television.

“We played a fantastic game. Defensively we were very good as they didn’t have shots on target and to achieve that against a team like Bayern is amazing.”

Barca have evolved this season under Luis Enrique into a team that is no longer obsessed with maintaining possession and instead is allowing the forwards to be more creative.

Bayern had plenty of the ball in the second half but it was Barca’s counter-attacks that proved decisive.

“We played okay for long periods of time but we were caught on the break three times. It’s bitter, we had our chances but we lost possession, they break and that should not happen,” Bayern’s Philipp Lahm told reporters.

Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben were among those sidelined in an injury crisis for Bayern, but a masked Robert Lewandowski started in attack despite fracturing his nose and jaw in his side’s recent defeat by Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup.

Barcelona’s first clear sight of goal came after 11 minutes when Luis Suarez scampered clear of the Bayern defence and was denied by a superb block from the feet of Neuer.

Minutes later a close range effort from Neymar was deflected wide by Rafinha.

The German champions slowly woke up and should have scored on the counter when Lewandowski slid a Thomas Mueller cross wide after 17 minutes.

Messi and Suarez were both showing delightful touches as they teased the Bayern backline while Neymar on the left side of their attacking trident found it more difficult to get into the game.

Barca continued to pass up opportunities in the second half before Messi made the breakthrough with a 20-metre drive that beat Neuer at his near post.

He then capped an excellent performance by lifting the ball expertly over Neuer for a record 77th Champions League goal and providing the pass for Neymar’s crucial late third.

(Editing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)

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Savea, Perenara rested by Hurricanes

A Hurricanes backline already missing Beauden Barrett will also be without in-form All Blacks Julian Savea and TJ Perenara when they host the Sharks in Wellington on Saturday.

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Coach of the Super Rugby leaders Chris Boyd has elected to hand winger Savea and halfback Perenara a break under the rest requirement for All Blacks players this season.

There are six changes in total from the side that beat the Crusaders 29-23 in last weekend to push the Hurricanes five points clear atop the standings.

Savea is replaced by Matt Proctor and Perenara by Chris Smylie while James Marshall is at inside centre in place of Barrett, who suffered a medial ligament tear which will rule him out for about a month.

Up front, Boyd welcomes back No.8 Victor Vito from a calf injury which sidelined him from their past three games.

He and Blade Thomson are recalled to the loose forward mix, replacing in-form pair Brad Shields and Callum Gibbins.

Prop Chris Eves makes a notable start in place of Reggie Goodes.

All of Eves’ 21 Hurricanes appearances have been off the bench but Boyd says the Manawatu loosehead is ready to prove himself against a powerful Sharks scrum.

Hooker Dane Coles, who came off the bench following a six-week injury break (elbow) last week, was unavailable for selection after suffering a calf strain against the Crusaders.

The Sharks have slumped to 11th place after losing their past four games, including a 48-15 drubbing from the Highlanders last week.

Hurricanes: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith (capt), Ma’a Nonu, Matt Proctor, James Marshall, Chris Smylie, Victor Vito, Ardie Savea, Blade Thomson, James Broadhurst, Jeremy Thrush, Ben Franks, Motu Matu’u, Chris Eves. Reserves: Brayden Mitchell, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Reggie Goodes, Callum Gibbins, Brad Shields, Frae Wilson, Otere Black, Rey Lee-Lo.

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Yemen urges ground intervention to save country: letter to UN

Yemen urged the international community “to quickly intervene by land forces to save” the country, specifically in the cities of Aden and Taiz, according to a letter sent to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.

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The letter from Yemen’s U.N. Ambassador Khaled Alyemany, seen by Reuters, could provide legal cover for such a move. 

A Saudi Arabia-led coalition launched air strikes against Houthi rebels a day after Yemen notified the 15-member Security Council in a March 24 letter that it had requested military help from Gulf Arab states.

The Houthi militia battled its way into Aden’s Tawahi district on Wednesday despite Saudi-led air strikes, strengthening its hold on the city whose fate is seen as crucial to determining the country’s civil war.

The letter sent to the Security Council also urged human rights groups to document “barbaric violations against a defenseless population.” It accused the Houthis of killing civilians and blocking medical teams. 

The fighting across Yemen killed 120 people on Wednesday, mostly civilians, including at least 40 who were trying to flee the southern port city of Aden by a boat that was struck by Houthi shells, rescue workers and witnesses said. 

The Houthis and ex-army forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have besieged Aden for weeks in an effort to end resistance in the city where President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi briefly based his government before fleeing to Saudi Arabia.

“Everyone that has committed a crime will not escape punishment and the government will employ all means to bring the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Saleh to international justice as war criminals,” Alyemany wrote in the letter to the Security Council.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chris Reese and Ted Botha)

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