Pastor in co-pilot's German hometown says co-pilot, family 'belong to our community'



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Relatives of the people killed in the Germanwings crash held a memorial service for their loved ones on Saturday at the village of Le Vernet, near the plane's crash site in the French Alps. (March 28)

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MONTABAUR, Germany — The pastor of the Lutheran church in Andreas Lubitz's hometown said Sunday that the community stands by him and his family, despite the fact that prosecutors blame the 27-year-old co-pilot for causing the plane crash that killed 150 people in southern France.

The town of Montabaur has been rattled by the revelation that Lubitz, who first learned to fly at a nearby glider club, may have intentionally caused Tuesday's crash of Germanwings Flight 9525.

"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," pastor 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 there is no direct contact with the family at the moment, but that he believes they are receiving good assistance.

French prosecutors haven't questioned the family yet "out of decency and respect for their pain," Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin said.

Authorities are trying to understand what made Lubitz lock his fellow pilot out of the cockpit and ignore his pleas to open the door before slamming the plane into a mountain on what should have been a routine flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf.

French officials refused to confirm or deny a partial transcript that German newspaper Bild am Sontag said it had obtained of the cockpit recording. The paper reported Sunday that the pilot left for the toilet shortly before 10:30 a.m. and was heard trying unsuccessfully to get into the cockpit again a few minutes later, then shouting "for God's sake open the door."

After several more minutes in which the pilot could be heard trying to break open the door, the plane crashed into the mountainside, according to Bild am Sonntag, which didn't say how it obtained the report.

Brice, the Marseille prosecutor said that none of the bodies recovered so far have been identified, denying German media reports that Lubitz's body had been found.

Tests on the body of the co-pilot may provide clues on any medical treatment he was receiving. Germany prosecutors said Friday that Lubitz was hiding an illness and sick notes for the day of the crash from his employer.

Dietrich, the pastor, said he knew Lubitz as a teenager, when he attended religious education 13 years ago, and his mother, who worked as a part-time organist in the community.

"When I worked with her or talked to her, it was very good and very harmonious. We had good conversations," Dietrich said. "I know her and her family. This does not make sense. It is incomprehensible for me, for us, for everyone who knew her and the family."

"From what I've heard, there were no obvious signs that there is anything in the background that could lead to this," he added.

In Rome, Pope Francis on Sunday prayed for the victims of the plane crash, citing in particular the 16 German students returning from an exchange trip to Spain.

Francis offered the prayer after Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square at the start of Holy Week.

In Le Vernet, a town near the crash site, families and friends of those killed were still coming to terms with what had happened.

"Members of the family shed tears as they went to see the site," said Ippei Yamanaka, co-worker of Japanese passenger Junichi Sato who died in the crash. "It was particularly moving to see Mr. Sato's father asking the leader of the Kempeitai (a Japanese military rescue team), with many tears in his eyes, for them to continue the search operation and for it to finish earlier even by just one day."

"His wife says she still she cannot believe what has happened, saying that it almost feels like her husband is away on his business trip and that it still feels like he is going to return soon," Yamanaka said.


Frank Jordans in Berlin, Philippe Sotto in Paris and Frances D'Emilio in Rome, contributed to this report.

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