French investigation authority BEA’s final analysis of the Germanwings Airbus A320 crash last year contains 20 mentions of the word “suicide” ­including, ­notably, in the primary conclusion over probable cause.

Contrast that with the report into the loss of a Mozambican Embraer 190, in which the word appears just once – and not in relation to the crew of the ill-fated aircraft.

Namibian investigators concluded that the captain of LAM flight TM470 had been left alone in the locked cockpit, and that the perfectly-functional aircraft was ­deliberately guided into a rapid straight-line descent with the altitude selector – a deviation that only someone familiar with the avionics could have achieved.

Mozambique occupies an unenviable position in global suicide statistics. In 2012, a World Health ­Organization study identified it as the country with the highest suicide rate in Africa – and the sixth-highest in the world. This makes the omission of the ‘s’ word from the LAM inquiry something of a curiosity.

TM470 was lost in northern Namibia some 16 months before the destruction of the Germanwings A320, in remarkably similar circumstances. But of the two inquiries, only the French investigation seemed prepared to be unequivocal about the key issue of psychological problems and medical assessment among ­pilots, and the potential risk of self-destruction.

Although it lists several traumatic events that had been suffered by the captain – any one of which could have been a sufficient catalyst for depression – the LAM inquiry does not attempt to venture into causal links.

BEA’s recommendations on the Germanwings crash ran to six pages, focusing almost exclusively on the psychological evaluation of cockpit crews, medical confidentiality, and strategies for pilot support. But the TM470 probe barely addresses the subject of the captain’s psychological health. No explicit mention of medical checks is made in its safety recommendations.

BEA benefited from the release – however limited – of medical records pertaining to the pilot whose psychological state and subsequent actions formed the core of the Germanwings event. Data might have been even less readily available to Namibian investigators.

But that does not make the ‘why’ any less important than the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ – and without the ‘why’, the impression is left of either shrugging acceptance or a reluctance to acknowledge the issue. And when ­mental health is a 21st century safety nexus, neither is acceptable as a foundation for accident prevention.

Source: Flight International