Germany’s Bild newspaper reported that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, suspected of deliberately crashing a plane in the French Alps told a former girlfriend he was planning a big gesture. (Reuters)

One year ­before he made the cut for Lufthansa’s elite flying school, Andreas Lubitz worked at a Burger King behind a carwash, flipping Whoppers and frying fries and talking to co-workers about his dream.

One day, he told them, he would be a pilot.

That dream finally started to come together in 2008, when Lubitz left for Bremen, Germany, and then traveled to Phoenix to attend one of the industry’s most rigorous training programs for airline pilots. But by 2009, Lubitz had walked out of the program he had fought so hard to attend, taking several months off and coming back to his home town. During that hiatus, Detlef Adolf — general manager at the Burger King here and Lubitz’s former boss — remembers his onetime employee stopping by the restaurant, buying a meal and sharing his distressing news.

“He had come back because he said the pressure was too great,” Adolf said Saturday.

Investigators believe that Lubitz, 27, deliberately flew Germanwings Flight 9525, with 149 other people on board, into a corner of the French Alps on Tuesday, provoking a search for answers that is now focused on his mental health. One official familiar with the investigation said that German authorities, in their searches of Lubitz’s homes and belongings, had found prescription medications that showed he was being treated for psychological problems.

They also found “some writings” that further confirmed that he was in a deeply depressed state of mind, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

In addition, one fellow pilot recalled, the rugged zone of the crash site was long familiar to Lubitz — he had overflown the same mountainous region with members of his local flight club years before.

Nightmares and delusions

Five days after the crash, the picture emerging of Lubitz is one of a haunted man, whose ambition to fly brought him both pleasure and torment. Authorities now believe he was hiding a long-term psychological illness. They have found sick notes from doctors, torn up and rumpled, stating he was unfit for work, including on the day of the crash.

On Saturday, Germany’s Bild newspaper quoted an interview with a former girlfriend of Lubitz’s. She described a man who suffered from vivid nightmares and delusions of grandeur.

“At night, he woke up and screamed: ‘We’re going down!’ because he had nightmares,” the former girlfriend told Bild. “He knew how to hide from other people what was really going on with him.”

She added that last year he had warned, “One day, I will do something that will change the whole system, and then everybody will know my name and remember it.”

But a Germanwings colleague who worked with Lubitz said the co-pilot had recently seemed to be thinking about his long-term future. Frank Woiton, a pilot who three weeks ago flew with Lubitz from Düsseldorf to Vienna and back, told the German broadcaster WDR that Lubitz said he wanted eventually to pilot a massive long-haul jetliner. Such flights on an Airbus A380 or Boeing 747 are normally the domain of pilots who have put in decades with airlines.

“He wasn’t a person who you thought would commit suicide,” Woiton said. “He seemed very happy, and he wanted to become a captain for long-distance flights. He was very good at his job.”

Bild and the New York Times also reported Saturday that Lubitz had been seeking treatment for vision problems, though it remained unclear whether the issue was real or perhaps psychosomatic. Either way, such concerns may have led Lubitz to worry that he would permanently lose his medical certification to fly.

A day earlier, the University Hospital of Düsseldorf said that Lubitz had been one of its patients as recently as March 10 and that it was not treating him for depression. A spokeswoman for the hospital declined Saturday to comment about the details of his treatment.

Here in his hilly home town in southwestern Germany, a city of 13,000 dotted with traditional houses and well-tended lawns, the mood shifted between denial and sorrow over a local boy who had made good.

He seemed ‘normal’

His public face was that of a healthy young man. A marathon runner and indoor rock climber, he seemed “normal,” many here said, in every way. Indeed, many in this town still refuse to believe the picture being painted of him as a deeply troubled soul who purposely ended his life and those of 149 others.

“It’s not right to say these things about him. He’s dead; he can’t defend himself,” said a woman at the front desk of the gym where Lubitz worked out, Fit-Up Sportcenter.

Bernd Juhn, 50, a sales representative and member of the LSC Westerwald flight club here where the Germanwings co-pilot was also a member, said that Lubitz had joined the group for at least one of its recreational aviation trips to Sisteron, France, in the mid-2000s. The Airbus A320 crashed Tuesday in the same rugged region of the French Alps.

Juhn insisted it was nothing more than a “fatal coincidence.”

“I know him as an absolutely reliable, friendly young man,” Juhn said. “I don’t believe what people are saying about Andreas. Did you hear the original black-box recording? People jump to conclusions too quickly.”

He said he saw Lubitz for the last time last autumn, when Lubitz was at the club’s deep-green fields on a patch of land near the edge of town for a test flight with a flying teacher — a regular practice at the club. “He told me that he was working as a pilot now, and I was happy for him. He was one of the few young men [at the club] and never stood out in a negative way.”

He said Lubitz wasn’t a big talker. “He was a relatively quiet guy.”

Lubitz was hardly seen as a large presence here, and those who knew him described him as friendly, even bland. He was the kind of guy who would yell “Guten tag!” to neighbors on his morning runs in the upscale neighborhood in this town where he shared a home with his parents. But his neighbors and others who knew him said they wouldn’t describe him as the chatty type.

“He was inconspicuous, normal, nice,” said Michael Dietrich, the pastor at the Luther Church in Montabaur who taught Lubitz’s confirmation class.

Lubitz’s father was in shock and grief at a memorial service in France last week, a French official who met him told a French television station Saturday.

“He was collapsed. Completely shot. On his back he’s carrying all responsibility for this drama. This is a man whose life has been shattered,” Bernard Bartolini, the mayor of the French town of Prads-Haute-Bleone, told BFM TV. “He has lost someone dear to him but also because his son is perhaps the cause of this whole tragedy.”

Mekhennet reported from Frankfurt and Birnbaum from Düsseldorf. Stephanie Kirchner in Montabaur contributed to this report.

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