On 24 March 2015, a Germanwings’ Airbus was deliberately crashed into the French Alps, killing 150 passengers and crew.
The accident report has now been issued, and the major focus is on the personality of the first officer – the officer who deliberately flew the airplane into a mountain.
This officer had a history of multiple psychological problems which he hid from his fellow officers and his employer. Today we know he was depressed, had multiple obsessions, and was suicidal. On the day of that fatal flight, he committed his planned suicide, thereby also killing everybody else onboard.
Lesson for the Maritime Industry
One concern in the maritime industry is whether a maritime officer with psychological problems deliberately could cause an accident.
It should be borne in mind that there are some fundamental differences between aviation and shipping. Aviation pilots seldom fly with each other and the majority of flights are only of 3-4 hours’ duration, so pilots hardly have the time to get to know each other very well.
In the shipping industry, however, officers work and live together, often for several months at a time, and get to know each other better. So, psychological difficulties are not easily kept hidden from fellow mariners, and signs or clues may be observable to others.
A Proactive Approach
In line with the recommendations for the aviation industry we also recommend psychological assessment of maritime officers before hiring and promotion, as well as reassessment at fixed intervals – and whenever the management feels there is a reason.
Examples of such reasons could be:
• Knowledge of any traumatic change in an officer’s private or professional life that could affect the officer’s stability and suitability.
• A suspicion that an officer is not functioning as well as before.
• Inadequate behaviour that seems odd or alarming.
• Sudden and unexpected changes in an officer’s mood and temperament, such as temper tantrums, depression, lack of zest for life, exaggerated passivity, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, etc.
• Sudden changes in behaviour that look unfamiliar to those who know the officer well.
• Withdrawal from usual and normal social contacts.
• Deliberate avoidance of eye contact when interacting with others.
Our recommendation is to make officers onboard aware of such changes in fellow officers’ behaviour and what their implications might be, to react to them and make management aware of their concerns.