THE Germanwings co-pilot locked the captain out of the cockpit and “deliberately” crashed the plane into the French Alps, killing all 150 on-board, the French prosecutor said.
Andreas Lubitz, 28, appeared to “show a desire to want to destroy” the plane, Marseille Prosecutor Brice Robin said.
“The co-pilot was alone at the controls,” said Mr Robin, presenting information gathered from the “black box” recorder that records sounds and conversations from the cockpit.
“He … refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot and deliberately began the descent of the plane.”
Mr Robin added: “The intention was to destroy the plane. Death was instant.”
The screams of passengers could be heard at the end of the audio.
Lubitz was identified as a German citizen who was not known to have any links to terrorism or extremists, Mr Robin said, adding that German authorities were expected to provide additional information on his background and private life later this week.
The pilot has been identified as German father-of-two, Patrick Sonderheimer, who had more than 6000 hours of flying time and had been a Germanwings pilot since May 2014.
Mr Robin could not say why the pilot left or why he could not get back in but apparently was attempting to smash the door down as it plunged from cruising height of 38,000ft to the crash moment eight minutes later.
He said the co-pilot turned the “flight monitoring system” button to initiate the plane’s descent and spoke “not a single word” during the last 10 minutes before the plane crashed.
The passengers were unaware of their imminent demise “until very last moment” and “died instantly”, the prosecutor said.
He said screams could be heard on the recordings only in the final seconds.
The recording showed that the pilot and co-pilot talked normally and “courteously” for the first 20 minutes of the flight after it took off from Barcelona.
Mr Robin said the pilot could be heard pushing his chair back before going to use the bathroom.
“Then we hear the pilot ask the co-pilot to take the controls and a seat being pulled back and a door closing. We can assume he left to answer nature’s call,” Mr Robin said.
“The co-pilot is left alone at the controls. We hear several calls from the pilot asking for entry into the cockpit. There is no response from the copilot.”
Mr Robin said there were “normal” breathing sounds from Lubitz throughout the rest of the flight that indicated he was conscious.
Lubitz said nothing during the final descent, which lasted about 10 minutes.
“Absolute silence inside the cockpit. Nothing, no word during the last 10 minutes,” Mr Robin said.
Air traffic controllers tried to contact the plane in the last few minutes before the crash, but received no reply from the cockpit.
Mr Robin said there is no indication this was an act of terrorism but stopped short of declaring it a suicide, adding that it was a “legitimate” question to ask.
Authorities are likely to treat the crash as a mass murder investigation.
Mr Robin confirmed only one black box recorder had been found but they had 32 minutes of the one found and analysed.
French investigators concluded the co-pilot had refused to open the cabin door and actioned the button for making the descent, as opposed to it being a mechanical autopilot action.
“This was a voluntary choice to destroy this plane … we ask the German authorities to ask more about the German pilot, his family and his environment,” he said.
Germanwings tweeted a response to the shocking revelations: “We are shaken by the upsetting statements of the French authorities.”
Mr Robin said the task to recover bodies from the Alps could take more than a week.
Investigators have carried out searches at two homes of the German copilot.
“Both the home of the co-pilot in Duesseldorf and the home in Montabaur have been searched,” said chief public prosecutor Ralf Herrenbrueck in the western city of Duesseldorf on Thursday.
Lufthansa chief executive, Carsten Spohr, the parent company of Germanwings, said he was “stunned” by suggestions Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane during a press conference following Mr Robin’s startling announcement.