no word for what happened in the alps

The news that Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz might have crashed deliberately into the Alps, killing 150 people, has left officials and everyone else at a loss for words. One in particular: a word that can capture all those deaths and the madness behind them. “Suicide” doesn’t cut it. If Lubitz was driven principally by the urge to kill himself – and just happened to kill everyone else because they happened to be riding on his suicide method of choice – than that’s more than self-murder. That’s a chilling and catastrophic failure of empathy that no one phrase can capture.

Every suicide wreaks collateral damage. Every suicide has victims beyond the one who dies: just ask anyone who’s answered a phone or a doorbell to learn a beloved someone jumped, swallowed, pulled a trigger. One of the mysteries of suicide is the darkness of that final moment, the whys and how-could-they’s of it, the realization that we can never know. Was it some drug they went on or off? Was it crushed romance, lost job, lost sleep, some other trigger that worsened or prompted depression? And how could they do it to everyone they loved? My husband and sister were two of the most caring people I knew. And yet the darkness prevailed, wounding the rest of us as it killed them.

But Lubitz’ final act was something else. Assuming the reports and their implications are accurate, it was more than suicide. It was more than murder-suicide. It was mass-murder-suicide, a slaying of himself and everyone with him in a moment so black that he lost all light and reason — and a sudden plunge downward into lifelong grief for 150 families. If the Latin-derived word “suicide” means a killing of one’s self, what could we possibly call a killing of one’s self and far too many others? A praeterside, or a killing “beyond”? Suieoside, or a killing of “me” and “them”?

I don’t know. I can’t know, because this is beyond meaning: nothing to coin, nothing to parse. No sense anywhere, no way to define it. There is no decent word for it but horror.

3 thoughts on “no word for what happened in the alps

  1. A thought – this pilot is perhaps similar to those who have gone on shooting rampages, killing as many people (or children) as they could – and then killing themselves. It seems to be a similar thing, even the mystery of it – if you remember the Sandy Hook incident, the perpetrator most likely wanted to commit suicide, and take as many with him as he could. Perhaps, this pilot had the same strange and horrifying state of mind. Only he didn’t have to look any of the other people in the face….
    Of course we all sit here and agonize …”why?” We think that if we knew “why” we could prevent it from happening again….

    • Yes, I thought of that, too. I wondered, though, where this was more impulsive than pre-meditated. Those terrible bloody rampages require a level of planning that suggests a commitment over a relatively long time. By contrast, did this guy actually plan ahead to do this? Or did he succumb to some awful, inexplicable urge?

  2. When I first read the story, of the plane hitting the mountain so fast, my first thought was, “was this deliberate?” Then I chastised myself for being so damn cynical. I so wish my first instincts were jadedly wrong.

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