The Suicidal Pilot
April 3, 2015
Truthfully: I probably would not have cared so much about the shitty thing that Lubitz did.
But I was literally stranded on a desert island thousands of miles across the ocean from home, when he crashed the plane.
Now, stranded is a relative term: The island was Hawaii, and I could have only been less stranded while being on a desert island, if I was in Australia.
But that is where I received that parcel of hate he chose to personally deliver to my meme mailbox. It’s that elephant part of the brain that never forgets, yet we call it the Hippocampus.
Wouldn’t that be a crowded university?
And knowing that I needed to fly home with my 2 daughters; ages 3 and 5, in less than a week, meant I was going to binge watch the entire miniseries: Ping ponging between a FOX, an SPF, and a CNN.
While it was a mystery on TV, I knew early why he splattered a plane and 150 living, breathing, loving people, into a Jackson Pollock original.
I knew why he painted the wall of a new gallery of death: He loved to fly and he hated to be sad. Moreover, he loved what he loved, in his mind, more than you love what you love.
He made the decision that his flying career was no longer an option, forcing 150 people into the dead end of his egocentric departure.
For many of us, there is no such thing as ‘Clinical Depression’.
There is the diagnosis your doctor gives you, and then there are the diagnoses we are willing to accept for ourselves.
Depression is different from sadness: Depression sucks. Its worst feature is not the re-wallpapering of your mind into a square you constantly circle. Or that you can become more afraid to leave the darkness. Or that it can seem even scarier to try and face it in the light.
The worst feature is this: After a while you want to die, but your body doesn’t automatically self-destruct. The autopilot of your survival looks for dark and desperate runways. Even minds designed with the greatest lift can find themselves heavy, with thoughts of suicide.
And here is where your personality finally gets a say.
How do you want to kill yourself?
My first experience with suicide occurred about 20 years ago. My friend told me he came home and found his pilot father hanging: My mind went blank after that.
There are only a few sentences that one can hear in life that perfectly simulate ROHYPNOL coursing through the brain.
Once back online, I processed the story, learning that if you have depression and you are a pilot, you are likely to lose your career.
And if you have depression, but it is well controlled on an antidepressant medication, you are also quite likely to lose your career.
That, passengers, is the secret that many depressed Pilots struggle with.
You may argue that there are selfish sides to suicide, like there are selfish sides to suffering. There certainly are more and less selfish ways, in how you go about actually ending your life.
I realize to him the pressurized cabin of feigned happiness was becoming overwhelming.
I picture him that morning: Sitting in his brain’s cells on self-appointed Death Row; shredding the doctor’s note excusing him from school that day.
He has always completed his homework, but doubts it will ever be good enough.
He begins to think that he is not enough of a man to be a Pilot: As if gender matters.
He feels once sharp spurs becoming blunted. His 10 Gallon Hat starts to run on fumes. He can’t help but visualize a noose around all the Bull in his life that keeps bucking him.
All the connections begin to fragment at the seams. Pieces pulled so far apart they can no longer resemble love or recognize life.
He fails to even spare a thought for the meat luggage of strangers, he can no longer care about.
Unsaddling his daily resolve, he has given himself permission to be afraid, and alone.
And only at that moment is he truly weak.
His next domino is selfishness, and then tragedy.
It’s not Lubitz: It’s the mask that we really have to worry about. The social costume that helps us all hide, from the condemning stigma.
We wear it around friends and strangers alike, to avoid being judged.
We wear it to keep the potential of our dreams alive, like teens in awe of adult freedoms. But mental illness can crack any mask and ruin any holiday. And sometimes all we are left with are the pieces that slowly accumulate at the base of where it all went wrong.
In my own dreams, I imagine I am Marty McFly: I pretend I can go back, and talk to Lubitz.
It helps me to process all the feelings of hate that he has somehow projected into me. The rubble of his last tantrum, where he did not get all the toys he wanted: So he took his plane away.
I want to know the face of the Captain with the axe, even though the precious goods never arrived.
I want to meet all the people that he killed and tell them not to fly that weekend; or to live their life like they are going to die at 35, or soon after 35000ft.
I want to plead with him not to usher down the aisle of his mind this villain, to take the final curtain call of his polymorphous perverse existence.
Please Not Him; Please Not Now.
But what I really want to tell him?
I know he was suffering alone.
I know there are narcissistic aspects to depression, and even suicide.
I wish he knew that he did not have to lock himself in the cockpit of his lonely life.
Rather, he has the human right to say; ‘I am a Pilot, and I have depression. I hate that it takes from me, my very ability to find joy and meaning in my life, so I have chosen to have it treated.
And, if my doctor tells me that I need time off, to heal from an episode? Then just like every other illness or profession, I should have that right, without the fear that my job, career, or dream, is up in the air.
Because I don’t want to be a Suicidal Pilot.’
Simon Trepel, MD
Simon Trepel, MD FRCPC, is a practicing Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, in Winnipeg, Canada. He is an Assistant Professor, at the University Of Manitoba, in the Faculty of Medicine, and the Co-founder of the GDAAY Clinic. He is, more importantly, the proud Father of 2 beautiful Daughters. He writes in his spare time about things he knows something about, and occasionally about things he doesn’t; like Yoga, and Italian flavored coffees. He hopes this essay brings more awareness to ensuring Pilots are treated for Depression, so everyone is safer.
Check out his Blog, called Simon Says Psych Stuff, at
Some victims of the Germanwings Crash
Starting with the Captain;