April 6, 2015

Digital Evidence Best Chance for Answers in Germanwings Air Disaster

As the investigation into the recent crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 into the French Alps continues, digital evidence is at the forefront in investigators’ efforts to find out the who, how and why of what happened on that tragic day. GDF’s founder talks about what kinds of things digital forensics experts can help investigators and attorneys uncover when data is the only witness left to question.

A tragic day

For the friends and loved ones of the 150 people who perished on Germanwings Flight 9525 when it slammed full speed into a desolate and largely inaccessible landscape high in the French Alps on March 24, 2015, the best chance of learning exactly what happened is going to come from electronic evidence.

As reported by CNN in this article on April 2nd, 2015, investigators have found incriminating evidence on a tablet and home computer system belonging to Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot of the doomed flight. According to the Internet history found on those devices, Lubitz had looked up suicide and cockpit door security in the days preceding the crash, further cementing investigators’ original belief that he had intentionally piloted the plane to its fiery end after the first black box recovered revealed Lubitz had sealed himself in the cockpit behind the security door while the pilot could be heard outside banging on the door and yelling, “Open the Goddamn door!”

On April 3rd, it was then reported by Associated Press that the second black box was discovered and revealed Lubitz had actually accelerated the plane on its decent, implicating his willing part in this catastrophic disaster even further. “When there are no eyewitnesses to a tragic event, it’s often digital evidence that will end up answering the hard questions; who what, when, where, how, and with luck, even why,” says Joe Caruso, founder and CEO/CTO of Global Digital Forensics (GDF), a premier national provider of electronic discovery (eDiscovery) and digital forensics solutions headquartered in New York City. “The key is knowing what to look for and where to look for it, how to acquire it correctly, and how to understand and use the information found to get to the truth, and that takes advanced training, steadfast discipline, the right tools and the right experience to pull it all together into useful evidence investigators and litigators can rely on to make their case.”

Crash forensics and beyond

“As the world waits for answers, the digital truth found through the science and technology of computer forensics could still reveal many things,” says Caruso. “Even though there was heavy fire and impact damage to most things at the site, there is still a fairly decent chance that more electronic devices with crucial evidence will be found. If there was that kind of commotion on the plane, as evidenced by the first black box, there is a good chance that passengers on board recorded video and/or audio that will prove key to the investigation. These days just about everyone has a smartphone, and you’d be surprised at just how resilient the memory in those kinds of devices can be. We’ve forensically examined devices out of fiery car crashes before which revealed distracted drivers that were texting or talking on the phone at the time of impact, so it’s certainly not out of the question in a case like this for unexpected but crucial evidence to still be on the horizon, but it’s going to take a lot of time and persistence from everyone, whether they are the ones scouring the harsh environment on the side of that mountain for any devices they can find, or the investigators and analysts that will have to piece together what those devices contain. And it’s not just air disasters, the same goes for every-day traffic accidents too, from computing devices individuals were using, to on-board computers in vehicles that work a lot like that second black box found, telling you everything the vehicle was doing right up until the moment of impact.”

Dissecting a Life in the Digital World

“It’s gut-wrenching when a tragedy like this occurs and my heart goes out to the victims, their friends and their families,” said Caruso. “Unfortunately, it’s not the first time unfathomable acts like this have occurred, and unfortunately it will not be the last. It’s going to take real investigative elbow grease and a lot of connecting the dots to make any kind of sense as to the motivation and mindset of an obviously disturbed individual. The good news is that the chances of finding some kind of digital trail which will help investigators put the pieces of this young man’s life together and start answering the burning question of why are great. Lubitz was 28 years old; how many 28 year olds do you know that aren’t plugged in to the digital realm in some form or fashion, and that means, more answers will certainly be coming. Nothing will bring those lost souls back, but hopefully at the very least those kinds of answers will give all those grieving some modicum of closure in the end, as well as give air traffic authorities some insight on how to prevent a similar tragedy like this from ever occurring again in the future.”

The Digital evidence experts

*Global Digital Forensics is a recognized leader in the fields of computer forensics, eDiscovery, cyber security and emergency incident response. To speak with a digital evidence specialist about your unique situation, or any other computer forensics, eDiscovery or cyber security needs involving Electronically Stored Information (ESI), call 1-800-868-8189, or visit our digital forensics page.

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