Relatives of air crash victims sue Boeing, company chief refuses to resign

Boeing chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg speaks during the aircraft company's annual shareholders meeting in Chicago, Illinois, on April 29, 2019. EPA-EFE POOL/John Gress

CHICAGO.- Relatives of the 10 Canadians who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash on March 10 on Monday sued Boeing, the manufacturer of the 737 Max 8 aircraft that went down, and the US Federal Aviation Administration.

The lawsuits were filed in federal district court in Chicago, where Boeing has its headquarters, on behalf of the victims, including three generations of the Manant Vaidya family and the wife and three children of Paul Njoroge.

Boeing and Minnesota-based Rosemount Aerospace are named in the suit, the latter having manufactured the nose pitch sensor in the aircraft that crashed in Ethiopia and in another plane belonging to Indonesia’s Lion Air which crashed on Oct. 28, 2018, in the Java Sea.

The Ethiopia Airlines plane crashed shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa en route to Nairobi on March 10, 2019.

Everyone on the two planes – a total of 346 passengers and crewmembers – died in the crashes.

In a separate lawsuit filed in the same court, the plaintiffs accuse the FAA of negligence.

Robert Clifford, with Clifford Law Offices, in Chicago, said in a statement that the Ethiopian Airlines crash was tragic for all the families who lost loved ones.

«These families from Canada are particularly impacted because the Vaidyas lost three generations – grandparents, parents and children,» Clifford said.

In the case of the Njoroge family, the victims included the wife and three small children, including a nine-month-old girl.

«These lawsuits will demonstrate the shortcuts and greed of Boeing and others as well as the utter disregard of the passengers they were to protect that could have avoided this tragic crash,» Clifford said.

Frank Pitre, an attorney with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, which is also involved in the suit, said that «Boeing and the FAA abdicated their safety responsibilities, and as a result, pilots and passengers became guinea pigs for real world testing of aircraft with known hazardous design characteristics and defective software systems. These families were destroyed by a profound breach of trust.»

The complaint against the firms and the FAA claims negligence, breach of warranty, strict liability, failure to warn and civil conspiracy.

One of the documents presented in court states: «Blinded by its greed, Boeing haphazardly rushed the 737 MAX8 to market, with the knowledge and tacit approval of the United States (FAA).»

«Boeing’s decision to put profits over safety … and the regulators that enabled it, must be held accountable for their reckless actions,» the complaint states.

Crash investigators are focusing on the automated MCAS flight-control system that activated – and which the pilots were unable to override – before the two planes plunged to earth in nose dives.

All 737 MAX aircraft worldwide were grounded shortly after the Ethiopian Air accident.

Meanwhile, also on Monday, Boeing chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg said that he would not resign and was working to regain customers’ confidence amid the crisis over the grounding of the 737 MAX following crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

«The first focus here is safely getting the Max up and flying,» Muilenburg said during Boeing’s annual shareholder meeting in Chicago. «And then we’ll address the follow-on issues.»

The 737 MAX was grounded following a March 10 crash that killed 157 people in Ethiopia.

The FAA required that Boeing do a software update before certifying the 737 MAX as safe to fly.

In his first public appearance since the accident, Muilenburg refused to blame a software glitch for the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610 crashes.

Muilenberg told shareholders that a «chain of events» led to the accidents, not just the aircraft’s software.

«We know we can break this link in the chain. It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk,» Muilenburg told shareholders.

The initial results of the investigation into the crash of the 737 MAX 8 in Ethiopia found that the crew followed all the established procedures but was unable to disable the automated stall-prevention system, which caused the plane to lose altitude.

The crew apparently turned on the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which is designed to prevent the plane from stalling, once again and tried to cut off the power to the trim motor.

The MCAS, however, kicked in and continued driving down the aircraft’s nose.

The same thing happened to the Lion Air crew.

«We don’t make safety features optional,» Muilenburg said in his prepared remarks. «Safety has been and always will be our top priority, and every one of our airplanes includes all of the safety features necessary for safe flight,» Muilenberg said during the shareholders meeting.

The Boeing CEO said the MCAS met all the standards set by the FAA and that the aviation giant had always made safety its top priority.

«I am strongly vested in that my clear intent is to continue to lead on safety and quality and integrity,» Muilenberg said. «It’s important to stress that. We deeply regret what happened with these accidents. It gets to the core of our company.»

The CEO said Boeing had a continuous and ongoing focus on safety.

«The reason this industry is safe is that we never stop on making safety improvements. We never claim we have reached the end point. We are continuously, across all of our airplane programs, improving safety every day. We always look for opportunities to improve,» Muilenberg said.

On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Boeing failed to notify Southwest Airlines, the biggest operator of 737 models in the United States, and other carriers that a safety feature found on earlier models of the plane and warns pilots about malfunctioning sensors had been deactivated.

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