The autopilot on the Germanwings Airbus A320 that crashed in the French Alps on Tuesday was switched to descend to 100 feet, its lowest possible setting, before it began its fatal plunge, according to data from a specialist aviation tracking service.
French prosecutors say 28-year-old German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked himself in the cockpit and adjusted the altitude setting on the Airbus A320, sending it plunging from its cruise altitude of 38,000 feet at a rate of 3,000 feet a minute.
Online web tracking service FlightRadar24 said its analysis of satellite tracking data had found that someone had changed the altitude to the minimum setting possible of 100 feet: well below the crash site lying at about 6,000 feet.
“Between 09:30:52 and 09:30:55 you can see that the autopilot was manually changed from 38,000 feet to 100 feet and 9 seconds later the aircraft started to descend, probably with the ‘open descent’ autopilot setting,” Fredrik Lindahl, chief executive of the Swedish tracking service said by email.
He said FlightRadar24 had shared its data with French crash investigators at their request. The French BEA crash investigation agency was not available for comment.