Last week, in the face of a 150-person murder suicide by a Germanwings co-pilot, parent company Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr defiantly defended his airline’s pilot training and evaluation process.
“I wish you understood my German, because I said twice and I repeated in English, without any doubt, my firm confidence in the selection of our pilots, in the training of our pilots, in the qualifications of our pilots, and the work of our pilots has not been touched by this single tragedy.”
Today, international headlines proclaimed otherwise, like this one from The New York Times:
Lufthansa Now Says It Knew of Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz’s History of Depression
We had in full denial mode a CEO faced with a tragedy caused by a criminal intervention that will lead to hundreds of millions of dollars of insurance company payouts to the victims. His defiance in the face of the facts just laced the reporting corps with motivation to ask tougher questions. And, a week later, the company gave up the evidence, from The Times’ web site:
DÜSSELDORF, Germany — The co-pilot at the controls of the German jetliner that crashed in the French Alps last week informed Lufthansa in 2009 that he had suffered from severe depression, the company said Tuesday.
Lufthansa said a search of its records found an email showing that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had informed it of his condition as he was seeking to rejoin its training program after a months-long absence. The airline said in a statement that Mr. Lubitz had sent its flight training school an email including medical documents describing a “previous episode of severe depression.” Lufthansa is the parent company of the budget Germanwings airline that operated the jet that crashed on March 24.
Lufthansa said it had now turned the information over to the German prosecutor investigating the crash, in which Mr. Lubitz and the other 149 people aboard the plane were killed.
It was the first acknowledgment by Lufthansa that it knew of Mr. Lubitz’s mental health issues before the crash last Tuesday and raised further questions about why the airline allowed Mr. Lubitz to complete his training and go on to fly passenger jets. Prosecutors in Germany said Monday that he had been treated for suicidal tendencies but did not say when, and Lufthansa’s statement did not address when Mr. Lubitz’s depression had occurred, what treatment he might have received or what if any follow-up there was with Mr. Lubitz by the airline.
This is what happens with facts. They ooze out, eke out, slip out. They’re nasty too, especially when you’ve tried to deny them for a week.
If there’s one thing positive to be said about Lufthansa’s handling of this tragic crisis, it’s that the company did not cover up the email from Lubitz, or destroy the evidence.
But that’s thin soup at this point.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.