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Air crashes caused by intentional pilot actions not common

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Posted at 9:26 AM, Mar 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-30 11:40:14-04

The black box recordings of a Germanwings flight that crashed into the French Alps Tuesday morning, killing all 150 people on board, revealed the crash was caused by 28-year-old copilot Andreas Lubitz.

Marseille, France prosecutor Brice Robin announced in a news conference Thursday that the plane's co-pilot "voluntarily" caused the wreck.

"The intention was to destroy this plane," Robin said. He told reporters the most plausible situation leading to the crash is that the co-pilot, identified as Andreas Lubitz, locked the pilot out of the cockpit and refused to open the door.

Lubitz, a 28-year-old German, was said to be "breathing normally" but "he did not utter a single word," while taking the plane into a controlled descent. According to The Guardian, Robin declined to declare Lubitz's action a suicide, and added, "We could hear the cries minutes before the plane crashed."

So how common is it for intentional pilot actions to down an aircraft? Not very. The two most recent downed commercial flights that were determined by the National Transportation Safety Board to be caused by deliberate pilot maneuvers occurred in December 1997 and October 1999.

Silk Air Flight 185, December 19, 1997 – 104 fatalities

Silk Air Flight 185 was a scheduled passenger flight on a Boeing 737 en route from Jakarta, Indonesia to Singapore. It crashed in Indonesia following a rapid dive into a river from cruising altitude. Since the plane was U.S.-built, the NTSB was called to investigate. The NTSB determined the crash was caused by deliberate pilot action. The Indonesian Transportation Safety Board disagreed, and found the evidence inconclusive.

Singaporean captain Tsu Way Ming and New Zealander co-pilot Duncan Ward were at the controls. 

In addition to the pilots, five cabin crew and 97 passengers were on board. According to The New York Times, at about 4 p.m., the pilots reported that everything was normal as the aircraft cruised at 35,000 feet in light winds and scattered clouds over the Indonesian island of Sumatra, about halfway to Singapore, when it began a vertical dive.

The NTSB determined the captain may have committed suicide by intentionally putting the Boeing 737 in a dive, possibly when the first officer had left the flight deck. The voice recorders stopped recording before the plane began its descent.

The U.S.'s involvement in the recent AirAsia probe into the demise of Flight 8501, which dropped from radar with 162 people aboard while flying near storm cells en route to Singapore from Surabaya, was said to have been affected by strained relations following differing investigation findings in the 1997 crash. 

EgyptAir Flight 990, October 31, 1999 – 217 fatalities

EgyptAir Flight 990 was en route from New York's JFK airport to Cairo when it crashed into the ocean Oct. 31, 1999, about 60 miles south of Nantucket, killing 217 people aboard.

The NTSB investigated at Egypt's request. 

The U.S. Navy found both the flight-data recorder and cockpit-voice recorder, and investigators were able to retrieve information.

The NTSB found the accident was a result of the relief first officer’s flight control inputs.The suggestions of a deliberate act were disputed by Egyptian authorities, who suggested a design flaw could be responsible.