Our staff here at the Universal Life Church was profoundly saddened by the revelation that the crash of Germanwings 9525 appears to have been deliberate. According to the New York Times (upon investigator's review of the cockpit recordings recovered from the wreckage), the co-pilot of the flight, Andreas Lubitz, purposely locked the pilot out of the cockpit and quietly steered the plane into the side of the French Alps while the pilot furiously attempted to regain entry and passengers screamed.

Pilot suicide and murder in the skies
Pilot Andreas Lubitz killed himself and 149 others when he locked the captain out of the flight deck and steered this plane (Germanwings Flight 9525) into the Alps. (Photo courtesy of Sebastian Mortier)

All 150 individuals on board were killed instantly.

At this point, according to French investigators, it does not appear as though the incident was connected to terrorism. While the investigation is ongoing, the evidence appears to indicate that the co-pilot's decision to crash the plane may have been an act of suicide/mass-homicide.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a pilot has driven a plane full of passengers into the ground. In fact, over the last two decades, 24 American pilots have killed themselves while flying. In 1976, a Russian pilot steered a small commercial airplane into the building where his ex-wife lived, killing 12. As recently as 2013, 33 people were killed after a captain directed a plane flying over Namibia into the ground when the first officer left the cockpit.

Pilot suicide
Suicide by pilot is relatively rare, but still a crisis that needs to be addressed. (Photo courtesy of Allen Drebert)

Additionally, while the investigation is ongoing, many have theorized that the yet-unsolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 may have been the result of deliberate actions taken by the pilot of that flight.

The phenomena, while rare, does certainly lead one to question exactly how safe it is to travel by air and place one's life into the hands of a total stranger. Clearly we are dealing with a problem here how can we make our skies safer?

While there has been some reasonable criticism of the application of the word "suicide" to these particular events, given the egregious bystander casualties associated with them, it has led all of us to think a bit more about suicide and its interpretation in the media.

Suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. A 2006 World Health Organization report estimated that in the year 2020 more than 1.5 million suicides could be committed around the globe. Currently, the organization reports, a suicide takes place somewhere in the world every 40 seconds.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., pilot suicide contributes to that.
The Center for Disease Control has determined that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

Before going further, we think it is important to make note that suicide is a disease, and a profoundly sad one. Very often when suicide is encountered whether as the result of a large news story or even in our personal lives one hears familiar refrains along the lines of "suicide is a selfish act." This characterization is disturbingly glib and fails to recognize the harsh reality of suicide: no mother or father would willingly devastate the lives of their children, nor would a child devastate the lives of her or his parents, by committing suicide. Suicide is not a free choice. People who commit suicide are not weak, they are not selfish, and they are not evil. Rather, these individuals are gravely ill and did not have the access to the support or treatment that they needed to recover. Suicide is not taken lightly by the suicidal; the act of suicide is a horrible, unfortunate, only-remaining response to an unfathomably deep pain and sadness.

Many news organizations are reluctant to report on suicide, and for good reason. We here at the Universal Life Church are, frankly, also reluctant to traverse into certain areas of this conversation for fear of the associated risk, and will attempt to do so within guidelines that have been established by mental health organizations designed to prevent the risk of contributing to 'copycat' suicides. One study found, for example, that in the month following the suicide of Marilyn Monroe (which was heavily covered by the press) there was a 12 percent increase in suicide nationwide.

Excessive reporting on pilot suicides may lead to copycat suicide incidents
Excessive reporting on Marilyn Monroe's suicide may have led to a 12% increase in suicide nationwide.

Over the last 30 years, the rates of suicide among those below age 24 and above age 65 appear to have declined (particularly among the latter demographic), the rate of suicide among those ages 25-64 in the U.S. have been increasing at a staggering rate since 2000. As of 2010, the CDC found, there were an astonishing 17.6 suicides per every 100,000 people in that age group. Within that group suicides among baby boomers (those in their 50s) who appear to be undergoing the greatest increase, having jumped more than 50 percent over the period.

The trend doesn't seem to be slowing, either; just last year a CDC report declared that the nationwide suicide rate may be the highest that it has been since 1990. More people in the U.S. now die from suicide than from motor vehicle accidents.

There are several different schools of thought claiming to have pinpointed the cause of the increase. Many have pointed to the overall increase in the coverage of suicide in the media over the period as one potential factor. Most experts point to economic downturn as perhaps the strongest factor in determining suicide. The evidence appears to be on their side. Around the world, suicide (according to WHO data) occurs most commonly among poor men in poor countries who find themselves unable to support their families. The oppressive actions of agro-chemical corporations in countries like India, for example, have led to a rash of suicides among men facing unbelievable financial hardship.

In wealthy countries like the United States, economic downturn may still be a factor in the increase in suicides although the trends were increase before, during, and after the recent financial crisis. That said, many medical experts largely attribute the increase in wealthy areas to increases in the abuse of medications.

Suicide is a disease. More than a disease, it is a terrifying global epidemic that is not being adequately addressed by medical experts, caregivers, or policymakers the world over. While scientific advancements have stretched human lifespans to astonishing lengths, attention and research have been diverted from and have not kept pace with the need for better mental healthcare.

Our skies will not be truly safe until the minds of our pilots are adequately cared for.More funding needs to be devoted to mental healthcare. A better support network needs to be in place to address the needs of those suffering from mental illness. Suicide needs to be discussed more openly and honestly, not hushed and stigmatized. It needs to be regularly addressed as a serious health crisis in need of urgent and immediate attention.

Pilot suicide, with some attention, could be cured.
Suicide is a disease, but a preventable one. (Illustration courtesy of the DOD)

If someone you know or love has committed suicide, our hearts and prayers are with you and with their spirits. Know and remember that these people loved you and cared deeply for you, and that their suicide was a response to a profound pain that we may never understand.

Fortunately, there is a great deal you can do to help! First (and we hope this is common sense), give everyone you encounter in this world all the care, respect, and love that you can possibly muster. Second, we would urge you to reach out to organizations directly advocating mental health research and suicide prevention, like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or The Trevor Project, and lend them whatever support you can. We would also ask that you contact your political representatives and let them know how urgent you feel it is that suicide and the global mental health crisis are addressed.

If you are personally experiencing suicidal thoughts, we would urge you to please seek help immediately. There is someone available to speak with you at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; the number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


  1. Krvin DeFranco's Avatar Krvin DeFranco

    It is truly sad. All we can do for them is hope for the poor souls on that plane. If the airline knew they should be accountable. These are hard times, maybe if an employee is in a position to cause bodily harm to someone else, and are being treated for some form of mental illness; there should be some kind of over-ride to doctor-patient privilege. That way we may be able to prevent this in the future. It could be in a person's confidential personnel file with only appropriate administration alerted, and after signing a confidentiality form.

    1. Steve's Avatar Steve

      Kevin, I'm a physician. On the first day of psychology in medical school, we were all enlighten to the knowledge that mental illness is far greater of a problem than you might initially perceive. Nearly everyone suffers from one sort of psychological disorder or another. Some are obviously worse than others. But if you were to try and weed out all the employees with mental illnesses, you could very well have a big problem. I believe that we should not just treat the symptoms, but rather the source of the disease. We need to investigate why people are sometimes prone to these acts of violence. We should get to the core of why so many people are suffering from mental illness (most of us, and I'd include myself to a degree). Its really a matter of "entrapment". its a societal problem. WE are doing things wrong. We are not on the right path. I believe this is simply a sign of a bigger, dealer problem, with its source in how we govern and treat each other. That is my theory, and its only a theory at this time.

      1. frank's Avatar frank

        I don't believe its an illness. But that's just my opinion. I think the continued destruction of core moral fiber of modern world leads to negative spiritual reactions to an environment that doesn't support strenght of character. These issues are symptoms, not the illness. The sickness is lack of spiritual growth in our modern society. Just my opinion.

        1. Steve's Avatar Steve

          Maybe so. But the medical profession treats it as an illness. I believe it is an illness simply by definitional terms. It exists and we and treat it, so by definition it is an illness. And it appears we agree that it is a symptom of a deeper cause. I would believe is a lack of faith in humanity became so much of humanity has lost their morals. Whatever the cause, it cause harm to the individual, so by definition, it is an illness.

          1. Lol's Avatar Lol

            Maybe we could just start up eugenics and execute all the crazies before they kill us.

          2. Steve's Avatar Steve

            Should we start with you?

      2. Richard James Clay's Avatar Richard James Clay

        Mental illness was not as prevalent many years ago as it is today. Many a sociologist will tell you that 'this modern life' with all it's unsolvable problems is at the root of the dramatic increase of sufferers. Unfortunately we cannot reset conditions to the late 19th or early 20th century. How else do you explain the sudden spate of Americans lining up to join Isis? Not a week goes by where some poor soul is arrested for trying to join that organization. One has to wonder how many get through the security screening that are not detected.

    2. Lee Batchelor's Avatar Lee Batchelor

      Good points, Kevin. I believe our Canadian government is looking at a new rule that specifies there must always be two people on the flight deck at all times. It can be a pilot and flight attendant--just as long as there are two. This may actually work because we often see sudden shifts in behavior without even knowing the person is ill, and then it's too late. My thoughts are with the families.

    3. Chris's Avatar Chris

      Perhaps the pilot should've had keys to the cockpit door. Both of them. Just a thought.

  1. Steve's Avatar Steve

    I suspect this plane crash never happened. Airliners can be flown by drones. The technology is already here. This story points out the fact that we can not protect ourselves from ourselves, no matter how hard we try. So we should concentrate on bettering and helping each other, instead of indentured servitude through financial pressures (everyone plays the hand they are death, its a matter of their own survival, and yours as well as this plane crash points out)

    1. Jeri's Avatar Jeri

      You suspect this plane crash never happened? I am truly outraged and sorrowful by that statement. You diminish the lives of those lost and the souls who mourn them.

      1. Steve's Avatar Steve

        Yes. And I could care less about what you think of me.

    2. Greg's Avatar Greg

      The evidence is overwhelming that the plane crash did occur. Your second point occurs to me as the interesting observation. Planes can indeed be flown by computer. The flight control (e.g. auto-pilot) computers on an Airbus consist of a primary system with three redundant backups. I fully expect that within ten years, humans will not be allowed to pilot anything. Not even cars or trucks (except perhaps for off-road fun). If ten years seems like too short a time horizon, fine. Call it 15 or 20. I suspect it'll be closer to ten. Accidents like this one will only hasten the day.

  1. Steve's Avatar Steve

    In other-words, people should have the free will to either participate or not participate in society without being destroyed. In a way, one can have the choice of joining the "matrix" or "machine" of society without the repercussions from their gov't. They should have the Liberty to work or not too. Currently, we must all enter society or face subpar gov't services such as healthcare or be unable to afford healthcare.

  1. Alan Kerrigan's Avatar Alan Kerrigan

    Given the up to fives times greater risk of dying in a car crash on the trip to the airport than on the flight, the best way to make air travel safer is to make road transport safer. There is already in place a responsibility for doctors to breach patient confidentiality where a public interest exists and members of the public are considered to be likely to be at grave risk from the actions of their patient.

  1. Elisabeth's Avatar Elisabeth

    Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, believed and taught that "The exterminator of error is the great truth that God, good, is the only mind"* and that "evil can have no place, where all space is filled with God".* Mrs. Eddy based her entire teaching upon this and felt that, as we all know this, the evidence that it is true will become more and more apparant; there will be no mind that can do something wrong, but all will express One Mind, Love.

    As an independent Christian Scientist, I have seen the effects of One Mind in my own experience. Plus, Mrs. Eddy was not the only person of great religious influence who taught this, there is a growing understanding and acknowledgment throughout world thought of Oneness.

    After deep thought and much experience, my understanding is that God is Universal Life Force Energy, Infinite Intelligence and Love, not a person, but definitely an Energy of Good, only, and, just recently, I have made a commitment to acknowledging this One Mind every moment of my day.

    *Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy, page 469, "What is Mind?"

  1. ayodeleoyetunde@yahoo.com's Avatar ayodeleoyetunde@yahoo.com

    I am a mother and wife of six who suffers from depression. In the past, I have had the thought of not wanting to live in this world anymore because it can be a stressful place to live. Suicide first starts from depression. Depression starts from constant stress and demands of life that are most of the time, unrealistic and inhumane. One who is constantly forced to do things that does not bring joy or happiness. What I have learned about depression is that you should never be alone. You should always surround yourself with happy loving people and environment. When a person is so depressed they see no hope. They feel as nothing can make the situation and circumstance better.

  1. J's Avatar J

    The airline standards in the United States are different than those in other countries. For instance, in the United States, if a pilot leaves the cockpit, a flight attendant must enter the cockpit until the pilot returns. If the standard rules for an airline were the same around the world, then situations like these can be better prevented and the passenger can feel more confident and comfortable in trusting the pilots with their lives. This is a very sad story. However, it does help me realize the reality of "people will do whatever it tales to follow their dreams"

  1. michael jacques's Avatar michael jacques

    i for one do not believe for one minute the BS coming out of mainstream...that plane was taken down not intentionally but by electronic malfunction... see...http://home.web.cern.ch/topics/large-hadron-collider.....that was actually put online the day before the crash.......only 125 miles from the site.....me thinks there are some "mad" scientists running this thing and more catastrophes in the future.........just sayin.......

    1. Richard James Clay's Avatar Richard James Clay

      Nonsense. A conspiracy fan, huh?

  1. Sarah54's Avatar Sarah54

    Persons with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder (the type of depression from which Lutz suffered) are subject to many forms of discrimination. Openness about a mental disability often destroys a career. Unfortunately, that fact may create the kind of fearful secrecy which is toxic to the disabled person and to those around him/her. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong chemical imbalance treatable by medication and psychological therapy. It does not go away, but the ill person may feel better and stop taking medication, which starts the mania-depression cycle back in motion. We need to arrive at a balance between the individual's right to privacy and the public's right to safety. But such a compassionate, reasonable balance must extend to all life-threatening medical conditions, including alcohol and drug abuse, ptsd, and other psycho-somatic diseases. It is not enough to simply blame the person who suffers from an illness.

  1. Ronald Finet's Avatar Ronald Finet

    My solution, Arm the entire crew and leave the door open.

    1. michaelclick's Avatar michaelclick

      At first blush, I would applaud this solution for it's aggressiveness, but even this might not stop all mass killings by pilots/copilots. For instance, if the pilot goes on oxygen and turns off the "supercharger" supplying the passenger compartment air, everyone dies a quiet, peaceful death from anoxia (lack of air). After everyone is cold and dead in the back, the pilot can do whatever he wants. He can crash the plane, reroute it to sell it to another party, whatever.

      I think that that is what happened to that "missing" plane. It never crashed, it was sold and the bodies disposed of. The new owner could do whatever he wanted with the plane. Pack it with explosives for a flying bomb, or just repaint it and fly it as part of a commercial airline. It could be "parted-out" like in an automotive chop-shop. There has to be literally millions of dollars of parts for resale in one of these planes.

      Did the pilot get his share or was he disposed of as well? I don't know, but the smartest thing would be to do away with him. "Dead Men Tell No Tales" after all.

  1. Shirley Kelly's Avatar Shirley Kelly

    It is almost impossible for a "sane" person to get "inside" an insane person's head. To do such an unspeakable act to innocent people who have put their trust in you staggers the imagination. The person or persons who allowed that monster in the cockpit is as responsible for the deaths of those people as the monster is. I raised four children. If there is something going on with your child, grown or not...make it your business to know. I cannot even imagine the horror and the mothers holding those babies close knowing they were going to die. If a person sees a child being abused, it is their responsibility to report it. If you are around someone who seems "off their hook"especially in a position to harm others, it is your responsibility to REPORT that. Note...Marilyn Monroe did NOT commit suicide.

  1. Richard James Clay's Avatar Richard James Clay

    You know...there are so many things THIS country has to offer...each state and locale has so much to offer. DRIVING trips are safer and much less expensive. Why fly anywhere? There is entirely too much flying around going on on this planet. Don't be spoiled...stay here and DRIVE YOUR CAR!!!

  1. Sarah54's Avatar Sarah54

    Shirley Bipolar depression is not the result of child abuse nor is it a moral failing. It is a chemical imbalance treatable with medication and psychotherapy But to manage bipolar disorder, it must be identified and its treatment supervised. That is where the airline failed, since they were aware of Lubitz's illness.

  1. Richard James Clay's Avatar Richard James Clay

    Since when is it a responsibility of an employer to assess and maintain the mental health conndition of potential and current employees? In this sick, troubled world, business would grind to a halt if employers were responsible for the health of their employees. My point is simply this: there is no reason for so many people to fly around all the time. Try staying home if you're afraid.

  1. Rev Michael's Avatar Rev Michael

    In addition in battling depression, anxiety,and suicidal thoughts with professional help, the best daily mental vitamin supplements is that of love,care,understanding,compassion,reminding the person they're not alone. And yes, politicians need to take suicide more seriously as well as the practice of human love.

  1. Steve's Avatar Steve

    Wow, after reading all the posts, I've come to the conclusion that there is one Hell of a lot of mental illness in this world!

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