Town grieves for its native son: Germanwings copilot Andreas Lubitz

Town grieves for its native son: Germanwings copilot Andreas Lubitz
Journalists stand outside the house in the German town of Montabaur where Germanwings copilot Andreas Lubitz used to live. (Roberto Pfeil / AFP/Getty Images)

In this tiny, idyllic town tucked away in southwest Germany, the news hit like a bombshell: Four locals were dead in a plane crash on a French mountain, including a native son who had made good as a pilot, Andreas Lubitz.

First came sadness.


"We will never forget you, Andreas," members of his flight club wrote on their website.

Then came shock.

Cockpit voice recordings suggest Lubitz deliberately flew the Germanwings Airbus A320 into an Alpine mountain in southern France on Tuesday, killing all 150 people on board.

In the day since the revelation, despair has turned to disbelief and anger, and above all, suspicion.

On the cobbled main streets lined with centuries-old, timber-framed buildings, in the half-dozen bakeries and two bars, there was a common refrain: "I don't believe it."

"I don't know; that's the point. It's too soon," said Martin Boettcher, 27, who manages the local cellphone store and lost a former classmate in the crash. "If it is really true that he did this, then he is not human. But it just can't be."

As details about Lubitz's personal life hit the headlines, including reports that he had struggled with depression, residents railed at what they described as media lies.

On Friday evening, dozens of people from this town of about 12,500 gathered in a historic square, lit candles, laid flowers and denounced what they described as the witch hunt that has sullied their native son's name.

Participants said they just want to honor his memory, and not judge him until more is known.

Meanwhile, conspiracy theories are spreading. There are accusations that government and airline officials are scapegoating Lubitz.

"I don't believe what they're saying," said Oliver, a man in his 20s who like most in the town was reluctant to speak to journalists and refused to give his last name.

"It's as if Lufthansa [Germanwings' parent company] was almost happy that they found a black sheep to pin it all on."

Others said it was a terrible blow to this picturesque community, which draws tourists for its historic landscape unblemished by bombings during World War II.

"It's a tragedy for the whole town," said Marie, who manages a family-owned bakery in the town's center. "How are we supposed to live after this is over? Everybody is now going to associate us with this suicide pilot, if he really did it."


She expressed sympathy for his parents, whose home was initially surrounded by journalists and now by law enforcement officials.

"My husband's friend, who lives a few doors down from the parents, said they have barricaded themselves inside their home over the last 24 hours because of the reporters," Marie said. "I feel so sorry for the parents."

Some worried that the tragedy could tear apart this small community, with relatives of the victims taking out their anger on Lubitz's family.

Still, teenager Claudia Muharemovic used her allowance money to buy flowers for the makeshift memorial in the square.

"I think it helps if we stay together as a community," she said.

Others struggled to make sense of the tragedy.

"I wish I had known him, so I could understand him," said Christian, a university student. "Still, it's not yet been proven, everything that is being written in the papers."

And when just for a second, some allow themselves to believe such a thing could happen, they shake their heads at the bitter irony that someone who had made something of his life could still come to such an end.

"Everybody says the same thing: The only thing you can do in Westerwald is grow up here and retire here," said Boettcher, the cellphone store manager. "There is nothing to do here."

"This guy found something to do with himself at the aviation club," he continued. "He was a success story. And it still brought him down."

Durica is a special correspondent.