Part 6: Germanwings Crash Parallels to Aurora Mass Shooting

Comparison of Movie Theater Shooting to Deliberate Airline Crash

Apr 10, 2015

by John Ogle, MD, MPH, FACEP

Commercial Pilot / USAF Flight Surgeon


The Germanwings crash series examines aircraft-assisted homicide from an aviation medicine perspective, and this part discusses parallels with the Aurora, Colorado Movie Theater Mass Shooting in 2012..

Overview: Professional Duty to Warn

This is part 6 in our Germanwings crash series on preventing aircraft-assisted homicide. Previous sections discussed medical and psychological screening and pilot privacy considerations and the professionals duty to warn. This segment compares and contrasts the Germanwings crash to a mass shooting in Colorado.

Comparison to the 2012 Movie Theater Shooting

The Germanwings crash has parallels to a 2012 mass shooting in an Aurora, Colorado Movie Theater. The Aurora gunman passed background checks and legally acquired weapons to kill 12 and wound 70 at a single location at a single point in time. The depraved gunman remains in custody awaiting trial as of April 2015. In both crimes, educated males in their late twenties committed single point mass murders with solo premeditation and callous indifference to the lives of previously unknown victims.

Some maintain that improved background checks could, should or would have identified these pre-criminals and thus prevented the shooter from acquiring weapons or the pilot from entering a cockpit. Defense attorneys in Colorado claim the Aurora shooter was a psychiatric patient although the prosecuting attorneys disagree. If the Aurora gunman was counseled for depression, was the counselor ethically bound to report his treatment to some government database designed to deter weapons purchase? Was reporting only required if he was found to pre-homicidal? What is the threshold for detection and/or reporting?

The Germanwings co-pilot may have also sought therapy in Germany. Does mental health counseling somehow mandate that the person who seeks such counseling should have their rights restricted more tightly versus those who do not seek professional help? At this time, it is difficult to envision a helpful or enforceable policy that would have prevented the Germanwings crime.

Next WayPoint - Aviation Security Policy

Next steps will involve a global airline industry discussion on what may or may not prevent these types of single point crimes. Notwithstanding dramatic crashes, as of April 2015, commercial airline travel remains the safest mode of travel on the planet.

Continue to Part 3: Ongoing Mental Health Surveillance →

Author: John Ogle, MD, MPH, FACEP is one of our senior flight surgeons. An Emergency Physician and commercial pilot himself, the author holds degrees in aerospace engineering, medicine and epidemiology. He is an experienced Air Force crash investigator and former AME.

Editor's Note: This series contains Dr Ogle's personal and professional opinions. His preliminary ideas may or may not reflect those of the FAA, the US Air Force or Details of the horrific crash are still emerging at the time of publication.

— Editorial Staff

Reminder: use to familiarize yourself with aviation medical regulations and guidelines, but always discuss your specific situation with one or more AMEs before dedicating resources toward expensive clinical workups. Find an AME now