Flight-assisted suicides are not a new phenomenon. The crash of Egypt Airlines Flight 990 near the coast of Massachusetts, in 1999, which killed 217 people on board, was also caused by deliberate action. In a 2007 American study, Russell Lewis and his colleagues found that between 1992-2002, there were 16 aircraft-assisted suicides. All of the pilots associated in these suicides were male, with a median age of 40 years. The pilot was the sole occupant in all of the suicides involving aircraft accidents. What distinguishes the recent Germanwings crash from these plane-assisted suicides is the presence of other individuals who lost their lives. This can also be interpreted as a homicide-suicide.
The vast majority of homicide-suicides occur within the family (child homicide-suicide, intimate partner homicide-suicide). The most notorious homicide-suicides outside the family realm include so-called school shootings, workplace shootings or what at the surface seem to be ‘random’ mass-shootings followed by the suicide of the perpetrator. In all these cases, the victims are not as ‘random’ as may be suggested. Sometimes victims are specific people whom the perpetrators have a specific grudge against. In other cases, for the perpetrator, these victims represent the ‘enemy’. He may kill these victims in a profound belief of ‘payback time’.
For homicide-suicides at schools, fellow students may be victimized because the perpetrator regards them as responsible for perceived social rejection. Similarly, in homicide-suicides at the workplace, the perpetrator may regard fellow employees as extensions of the boss who fired him, or denied him a promotion. For homicide-suicides taking place at shopping malls or other public places, the perpetrator may view these stranger victims as representatives of a larger, unjust system. These perpetrators often came to perceive society and some of its members as responsible for their personal suffering. Their mass homicides may send a message of social protest, especially if political or ideological issues are raised.
This is precisely why the recent Germanwings crash, if deemed a homicide-suicide, poses such a conundrum – what societal ‘evil’ did the 149 individuals represent, if anything? Because of the vast scope of victimization, the unpredictability and seemingly random nature of the event, we search for meaning how this could have happened and what to do to prevent future tragedies from occurring. Let’s hope more details come to light to provide such an answer.