A British Airways pilot threatened to kill himself by crashing a jumbo jet five years before the Germanwings disaster in the French Alps last week.
Robert Brown killed his wife in a horrific attack with a claw hammer, and the next day he considered deliberately crashing his Boeing 747 in order to ‘make a statement’.
Now his victim’s family say they fear that airlines have not learned from the case and are not making enough effort to assess whether pilots are genuinely fit to fly.
Brown’s case has chilling parallels to that of Andreas Lubitz, who last week flew a plane into the Alps, killing 150 people, after suffering from depression.
He had told BA that he was suffering from stress as a result of his divorce from wife Joanna, and consulted his GP about his illness, but carried on working anyway.
In October 2010, Brown argued with his wife while dropping off their two children at her home in Ascot, Berkshire, and hit her 14 times with a claw hammer.
He then buried her body in Windsor Great Park – but he told his murder trial that he had considered crashing a plane the next day after being harassed by Joanna’s lawyers.
‘I thought something needs to be done,’ Brown said. ‘I thought I want to fly one last time and crash the aircraft. I wanted them to be held accountable.
‘I thought if I got to work I could crash an aircraft, or fly to Lagos and crash it there or hang myself in the hotel room. I wanted to make a statement.’
Instead, he called in sick and another pilot stepped in to fly the BA jumbo jet to Nigeria. Brown was arrested later the same day, and subsequently convicted of manslaughter and jailed for 26 years.
Joanna’s mother, Diana Parkes, told the Daily Telegraph that following the case airlines should have done more to ensure that pilots cannot endanger their passengers.
She said: “Robert Brown’s claim in court that he planned to ditch a commercial flight the day after he killed her was chilling to hear, and yet there has never been any acknowledgement from British Airways that lessons can be learnt from that.”
The victim’s best friend Hetti Barkworth-Nanton said that there were ‘chilling similarities’ between Brown’s case and that of Lubitz, who were both fitness fanatics.
Brown told his BA bosses that he was feeling stressed out, but they did not follow up the conversation to check that he was in a fit mental state to fly, she said.
Similarly, Lubitz was apparently signed off from work following a struggle with depression, but ripped up the doctors’ notes he was given excusing him from flying.
Mrs. Barkworth-Nanton told the Telegraph: ‘Neither should have been allowed to fly and put the lives of their passengers at risk. In both cases there were things the airlines should have picked up on. The warning signs were there.
‘Robert’s terrible crime resulted in him taking the life of Jo, but it could have been much worse, and myself and Jo’s family feel that airlines are not learning the lessons of these tragedies.’
Lubitz is believed to have locked the pilot out of the cockpit during Germanwings flight 4U9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf last Tuesday, before deliberately crashing into the Alps killing all 149 other people on board.
Work to retrieve the bodies of the victims from the crash site high up in the mountains is continuing six days after the disaster.