About that Pilot



The Associated Press put out this story about the family of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who murdered 149 people with an airplane last week. It was an article stating that the Lutheran pastor and their church community was standing with the Lubitz family during this difficult time.


“For us, it makes it particularly difficult that the only victim from Montabaur is suspected to have caused this tragedy, this crash — although this has not been finally confirmed, but a lot is indicating that — and we have to face this,” the Rev. Michael Dietrich said. He spoke to The Associated Press after holding a church service Sunday to commemorate the crash victims and support their families.

“The co-pilot, the family belong to our community, and we stand by this, and we embrace them and will not hide this, and want to support the family in particular,” Dietrich said. He added that he had no direct contact with the family at the moment but knew Lubitz as a teenager and his mother, who worked as a part-time organist in the community.

Here’s the thing that struck me: Exactly how can a church family, and a pastor support a family during tragedy when they have no direct contact with them?

When my mother was dying, the pastor from my sister’s church would make the four-hour round-trip drive to Seattle to minister to my mother, to me, to my sister, to our entire family. He would sit with us, pray with us, make us laugh, and generally just be a comfort to us.

He and I are friends on Social Media. He never once let that be a substitute for being present.

And he wasn’t the only one.

I have a drawer full of cards from some of you. Some of you had never met my mother, yet, you took the time to write notes of concern, prayers of encouragement, stories of your own mothers and fathers and mailed them to my mother. Many of you called and texted and sent flowers and one very special corn husk angel. You were present with us in a very real way.

We ask ourselves the same questions every time there is a mass murder: How can this happen? How is it nobody noticed anything? What can we do to stop it?

And the answer is almost always the same: The warning signs were there. People did notice, but those people did not speak up.

Investigators discovered “a small mountain of pills” at Lubitz’s home. He was under the care of more than one doctor. He had a girlfriend, a school teacher, some reports claim Kathrin Goldbach is carrying his child. They lived together until, reports say, she very recently grew weary of his controlling nature and called off their engagement.

Surely, as an educated woman, she knew about that small mountain of pills, the doctors, his paranoia? She reportedly remembered him saying: “One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.”

At the time, she shrugged off his statement. It was only later, after he had murdered all those women and children and men, that the Ah-Ha moment came to her and it all made sense.

But that’s always true of these things. It was after Adam Lanza stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary and murdered teachers and administrators and all those terrified children that people who knew Adam, who knew his mother Nancy, had those same Ah-Ha moments, noticing things they had ignored and overlooked and not paid attention to or just plain out excused as weird and off-plumb and shrugged their shoulders over.

We hold vigils in the wake of these mass murders. We promise to change our ways. We grieve collectively as nations, as communities, as families. We pray for the families of the slain. We think of all those loved ones left behind in Australia, Argentina, Iran, the United States, Venezuela, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Israel, Mexico, Japan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and our hearts break for them during these dark hours. And there is Lubitz’s family, and their suffering, too. No good and loving parent wants to be the parent of a mass murderer. It defies all that parenting and family represents.

Yet, when the vigils end, the crowds disperse, as they always do, we return again to our homes and the very ways of living that have found us here at the altar of grieving over and over again.

Must we resign ourselves to mass murder as a common fate in this global world of ours?

Or can being present, really showing up and paying attention to each other, and speaking up when need be, change the course of a pilot intent on killing?

How much human kindness does it take to prevent heinous acts of evil?




Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


Stephen Roth

about 9 years ago

As always, a very thoughtful--and thought-provoking--post, Karen. I agree with the need for all of us to listen and pay closer attention to each other. I, too, wonder why the people who were closest to Andreas Lubitz did not pick up on some of the warning signs. However, I think that there is also the human tendency for our judgement to be clouded when it comes to the ones we love. We make excuses for our friends and loved ones. We may even lie for them. We certainly don't envision them as mass killers. In my opinion if there is anyone to blame in this tragedy other than Lubitz, it is the airline for not being more diligent in assessing the mental health of its pilots. After reading several stories about the crash, I was surprised that many commercial airlines do very little in terms of psychological screening. I was also startled to learn that crashing a commercial airliner as an act of "suicide" has happened at least a handful of other times. I hope that all airlines will make some policy changes as a result of last week's tragedy. --Stephen


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 years ago

Stephen: Yes, there is most definitely a problem in assessing the health of pilots. That his doctors knew he was suicidal and yet had no idea what he did for a living, where he worked, or the danger he posed to others is a problem. It's a treacherous line, this notion of doctors contacting employers to warn them about the potential harm to others. Obviously, Lubitz should never have been flying. But here is where I think those closest to us come in to play. Surely, the girlfriend knew the depth of his darkness, had some indication of it, knew about the pills, maybe the writings, the fears. And if she didn't know anything at all, that is the problem I am addressing here. How is it we are present in people's lives and yet we fail to see and/or speak out? Is it because we see it as their problem and not ours? Or that we are living such isolated lives, even in our own homes, that our spouses, our parents, our friends haven't a clue? Yes, I agree that our judgment is cloudy when it comes to loved ones. No one expects their son or daughter, friend or lover to be a mass murderer. That's why it is important for all of us to be willing to be held accountable and to hold each other accountable. The one common denominator in each of these mass murders is isolation. At some point the killer begins to isolate themselves from community, from family, from loved ones. Our culture is making such isolation easier and less noticeable.


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