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Families of Victims of Boeing Crash Fear the FAA’s Ungrounding of 737 MAX is Premature and Could Lead to Third Crash

Families of Victims of Boeing Crash Fear the FAA’s Ungrounding of 737 MAX is Premature and Could Lead to Third Crash; Authorities Haven’t Even Released Final Investigative Report of Ethiopian Crash

Families of victims of the Boeing crash of a 737 Max in Ethiopia reacted with sheer disappointment and renewed grief following the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decision today to return the aircraft to service.

Families who lost loved ones in the second crash involving this defective aircraft have been calling for full transparency of all documents that the FAA, Boeing and government officials relied upon in making the decision to return the Boeing 737 Max 8 to the skies.  Instead, Boeing has been excessively redacting critical documents that it has provided to the government and to the families’ lawyers who have filed lawsuits pending in federal district court in Chicago.

The FAA announcement comes on the heels late yesterday of the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approving legislation by voice vote to reform the FAA’s certification process after two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes killed 346 people.  The aircraft has been grounded since March 2019.  The House bill requires an expert panel to evaluate Boeing’s corporate safety culture and to recommend improvements and mandates that aircraft manufacturers adopt safety management systems and complete system safety assessments for significant design changes.  It is being reported that the Senate Commerce Committee plans to vote today on an FAA certification reform bill, but it remains unclear if the entire Congress will be able to adopt a measure by the end of the year.

Families who lost loved ones in the crash of Flight ET302 on March 10, 2019, have consistently questioned the United States’ rush to getting the initially self-certified Boeing plane back in the air without sufficient input from international agencies and sufficient pilot and expert testing, and many have been outspoken that the Max never should be allowed to fly again.

Flyers Rights, an advocacy group for consumers, also challenged the redaction of requested documents in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that would demonstrate what Boeing knew before allowing the second crash of the Max in five months.  Flyers Rights argued that information contained in these documents that included means of compliance with federal regulations cannot be deemed proprietary.

The first crash of a Boeing 737 Max crashed in October 2018, off the coast of Indonesia shortly after takeoff killing all 189 on board.  It was allowed to continue to fly until the second crash killed all 157 on board shortly after takeoff in Ethiopia in March 2019 when the aircraft then was grounded worldwide.

Several family members question the ability of Boeing to correct the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), a computer software system new to the Boeing Max 737 that can control the entire plane’s ability to fly.

“Family members question how the FAA and Boeing can urge allowing the 737 Max 8 back into commercial service when the investigation report from the crash has yet to be released by the Ethiopian authorities,” said Robert A. Clifford, founder and senior partner of Clifford Law Offices in Chicago and Lead Counsel on behalf of the plaintiffs’ consolidated litigation in federal district court in Chicago. “That investigation will reveal what truly occurred in the cockpit on March 10, 2019, and without that detailed information the FAA and Boeing continue to risk the lives of the flying public by allowing the plane back into the sky.”

Michael Stumo, father of 24-year-old Samya Rose Stumo of Massachusetts who was killed in the crash, said “The aggressive secrecy of the FAA means we cannot believe the Boeing 737 MAX is safe. We have repeatedly asked for the technical descriptions of the alleged fixes, the test protocols and results and the safety assessments. But the FAA won’t release them and Boeing won’t consent to their release. We were told the plane was safe when certified in March 2017 and again after the Lion Air crash in October 2018. ’Just trust us’ does not work anymore.”

Nadia Milleron, mother of Samya Rose, said, “During a recent interview with a reporter, FAA head Stephen Dickson continues to blame the pilots for the 737Max8 crashes. NTSB stated that Boeing underestimated pilot response time to multiple and cascading error messages resulting from the airplane’s automated stall-prevention system. That cacophony of alerts, which was one of the direct and fundamental causes of the crashes, has been left in place by the FAA at this time of ungrounding, against the recommendation of NTSB. Why don’t you take this opportunity to reduce pilot workload in an emergency with a coherent system of alerts that doesn’t overload the senses? As you know coherent alert systems exist in many modern planes, developed because people died as a result of pilot confusion. Confusing, loud alerts are one of the things that directly caused these crashes. It is not responsible of you to allow a direct cause of the crashes to remain.”

Ralph Nader, uncle of Samya, wrote a letter to the FAA last week lambasting the FAA for its secrecy-based rulemaking and for kowtowing to Boeing’s corporate interests to get the unsafe 737 MAX back in the air without proper aerodynamic and structural repairs and modifications. A copy of that letter appears below.

Paul Njoroge of Toronto, Canada, lost his entire family in the crash — his wife, three small children including nine-month-old Rubi, and his mother in law. Njoroge said, “When Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed, Boeing was adamant that the 737 MAX planes were safe to fly. And even after all aviation regulators in the world grounded the planes, Boeing thought that a quick fix to the MCAS was possible and sufficient to allow the planes back up in the air within weeks. However, as time passed, the world learned that the 737 MAX is a fundamentally flawed plane. In certain conditions, it simply cannot fly without MCAS. In their mission to unground the plane, Boeing’s and the FAA’s focal point has been MCAS. They ignored all the signalized engineering design flaws. This plane is being ungrounded before all safety functions are reviewed. A key question yet to be addressed by neither Boeing nor the FAA is why MCAS was installed in the 737 MAX — was it to prevent stalling or to improve the plane’s handling capabilities? MCAS does not address the engineering flaw of the plane’s tendency to pitch up in certain conditions.  The public should know that these planes can pitch up excessively in certain conditions and if MCAS is inoperable, the planes will stall. Failure in any instrument’s functionality, the plane will still produce a cacophony of different alerts which would overload pilots; this happened in the case of Flight ET302.  Families of the B737 MAX victims have relentlessly requested for all B737 MAX information to be made public. The families’ lawyers have requested for the information in court, but Boeing and the FAA have been fighting legally to prevent the release of information. The world should know that the B737 MAX story is a convoluted web of lies, greed, concealment and deceit. You would rather walk before you ever consider boarding a B737 MAX plane.

Ike Riffel, father of Melvin and Bennett Riffel, brothers from California who were killed in the crash, said, “The 737 Max is a flawed airplane. The airplane is aerodynamically unstable due the placement of the larger engines. Instead of fixing the problem, Boeing decided to compensate for this defect by adding software to the flight control system that would take control away from the pilots and hopefully stabilize the airplane. The pilots had no training on how to deal with a failure of this system or even any knowledge that the system existed at all. Needlessly 346 people lives were cut short.  Mothers, fathers, children, entire families lost because Boeing tried to patch an unstable airframe with software. In a rush to get this plane certified Boeing hid this patch from the regulators, the airlines, the pilots and the public even though they knew that there were flaws in the system. The two 737 Max air disasters were not accidents — they were the result of a calculated gamble that Boeing took on the flying public and we all lost. The 346 passengers and crew lost, the family and friends of the victims lost, the flying public all lost because of Boeing’s rush to certify a defective plane. These disasters were preventable, but Boeing decided to put profit over safety. Please do not let this happen again. No families should ever have to go through this hell. This plane is inherently unstable and should not be certified until it can be made safe without the aid of flight control software. What is Boeing not telling us now? Do not let this monster out of its cage again.”

Chris Moore also of Toronto, Canada, who lost his 24-year-old daughter Danielle in the crash, said, “It has been 20 months since our lives were scarred forever. We still suffer panic attacks and find it hard to manage daily tasks; it’s like we’re living in an alternate reality. Today’s news rips open a wound that is trying to heal. Before March 10, 2019, we trusted the safety of aircraft and the safety agencies whose main purpose is to protect flyers. We’ve since learned that greed and the promotion of the industry have dominion over safety. We are grateful for Congress pulling away the curtain and exposing the deficiencies within the aviation industry. We know there are still grandfathered hazards remaining on the 737 MAX and we know too that the design and certification of the 737 MAX was rushed by greed. However, it is unclear what other oversights and gaps exist. Was this the best Boeing had to offer? To Boeing, the 737 MAX tragedies remain just part of their Quality Management System. By setting low standards and minimizing the changes to the flight control system, the plane was certified. The 737 MAX can’t even meet industry standards – Airbus has three angles of attack sensors and a system to determine the right information if one fails, but the agencies believe this will be too onerous for Boeing. The 737 MAX is a botched plane which has confounded the experts. The corrections have raised additional questions. This is why the agencies have taken a long time deliberating on the changes to the MCAS. But the plane today is still second-rate by industry standards. Boeing should have started with a clean slate aircraft and the agencies should have rejected the original certification – why isn’t the extirpation of this plane considered even now? The agencies are giving the 737 MAX the green light without full safety measures because they feel that the grounding has taken too long and they want to reconnect with the ‘promotion of aviation’ aspect of their mission statement. They are gambling again with flyers’ lives for the expediency of business. We must remind ourselves and the public that these are the same people who allowed the carnage of 346 people and the prospect of a happy future with their friends and families to evaporate in a vapor trail. The flying public, airlines and stockholders need to understand that if they care about the safety of this plane, they need to voice their concerns to their MP or Governor. Once the 737 MAX gets recertified and planes get ‘air-worthy’ certificates, one will have no choice but be prepared to fly it if booked with an associated airline unless you want to relinquish your ticket at your expense. Before ungrounding, the plane should be evaluated by an independent third party of experts.  Agencies are the ones who failed their responsibility and have not been held accountable.  Boeing and the agencies have used up their second chance with the crash of ET302. We don’t want a third crash.”

Zipporah Kuria of the UK who lost her father in the second Boeing crash said, “ As we attempt to navigate the loss of our loved ones on this day, Boeing celebrates the ungrounding of the killer plane that robbed our loved ones of their lives and us of our closure. Boeing and the FAA’s focus is to repair and remedy their loss of earnings and reputation. In contrast, we can barely repair the remnants of what has become our lives. The fact that 18 months after the loss of our loved ones and their focus has been on ungrounding the plane without holding anybody accountable for the deaths of 346 people should speak to the priority of the both the FAA and Boeing, which evidently has and always will be profit over human life. We hope that after our efforts to keep the Max grounded, passengers will pay more attention to their safety while flying because those meant to protect us are more occupied with protecting corporate interest over consumer safety. We have been here before after the first crash and Boeing said the Max would be the safest plane to fly and would only require minor changes. Another 157 lives lost, and the discovery of deception and flaws in design and manufacturing later we find ourselves with the same promise from Boeing and the FAA. Our only guarantee for safety is the same previously broken promise. It was only by divine intervention that the first plane crashed into the ocean and the second into a field. What if the third is over Times Square, London Bridge or Capitol Hill?

In the FAA press conference after FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson flew the Max, he was asked whether he would put his family on the plane and he failed to address that. If he could not answer a simple yes or no question about placing his loved ones this plane, why should the public trust it? As the families, we have paid the price of Boeing’s corruption and greed with the lives of our loved ones. We will never, see touch or be with our loved ones, but the Max will fly again. 2020 just got a lot darker, and we didn’t think that was possible. My dad will not be at the table this Christmas, but Boeing CEO David Calhoun will take home his paycheck of $7 million with his turkey for ungrounding the 737 Max.”

Javier de Luis of Massachusetts, an engineer who once designed software for space stations lost his sister, a freelance interpreter for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Vatican, in the Boeing crash.  He said of the announcement of the ungrounding, “I believe that the refusal by Boeing and the FAA to allow an independent review of the modifications to the 737 Max shows that they have learned nothing from the accident that killed my sister.”

Stumo, Njoroge, the Riffels, Moore, Kuria, and de Luis are represented by Clifford Law Offices.

Clifford said, “The time has come to pull back the cloak of secrecy.  The lack of transparency by Boeing, and the government’s complicity with such secrecy, is not being tolerated by the families who lost loved ones but also for the entire flying public.  If Boeing and the FAA are so certain that the aircraft is safe, they should have no concerns in allowing access to all documents.  Public confidence in this aircraft is not ensured by this type of behavior, as the congressional hearings proved that neither Boeing nor the FAA can be trusted here.  The courage and sacrifice of the families who lost loved ones in this bitter fight is inspiring to the entire flying public.”

For more information, please contact Clifford Law Offices Communications Partner Pamela Sakowicz Menaker at 847-721-0909 (cell).  www.CliffordLaw.com

Letter of Ralph Nader to Stephen Dickson, FAA Administrator (sent Nov. 13, 2020)

Enclosures:

https://nader.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Subject-Matter-Specialist-Memorandum-9-30-20.pdf

https://nader.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Summary-Committee-Report-Boeing-737MAX-9-20.pdf

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