Families Impacted By Boeing 737 Max Crashes Give Emotional Testimony

Jul 18, 2019
Originally published on July 18, 2019 6:12 am
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Families of people killed in the crash of a Boeing 737 Max airplane say they want Congress to improve aviation safety. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Paul Njoroge is haunted by six minutes, the final six minutes his wife, his three children and his mother-in-law were alive. It was the morning of March 10, and they were sitting on an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max jet taking off on what was supposed to be a flight to Nairobi.

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PAUL NJOROGE: I think about their last six minutes a lot. My wife and my mom-in-law knew they were going to die. They had to somehow comfort the children during those final moments, knowing they were all their last. I wish I was there with them.

SCHAPER: In a somber hearing room at the Capitol, the 35-year-old financial adviser from Toronto told a congressional subcommittee that thoughts of his wife Carolyne, 6-year-old son Ryan, 4-year-old daughter Kelli and 9-month-old baby Rubi never leave him.

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NJOROGE: Every minute of every day, they would be all around me, full of life and health. I miss them every minute of every day.

SCHAPER: They were five of 346 people killed in two 737 Max jet crashes just five months apart. Investigators say an automated flight control system on the planes, called MCAS, is at least partly to blame. Njoroge blasted Boeing for suggesting shortly after the crash of a Lion Air jet in Indonesia in October that the pilots were to blame.

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NJOROGE: Boeing used these fallacy of foreign pilot error to avoid the grounding of the 737 Max. That decision killed my family and 152 others in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 four months later.

SCHAPER: 737 Max pilots around the world did not even know the MCAS system existed until after it put the Lion Air jet into a fatal nosedive. Njoroge calls it criminal that Boeing kept the information out of operating manuals. And he called out the FAA for, in his words, recklessly allowing Boeing to police itself when certifying the aircraft. Michael Stumo, whose 24-year-old daughter Samya also died in the Ethiopian crash, told lawmakers they should end the FAA program that allowed the airplane manufacturer to designate its own employee to provide safety oversight.

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MICHAEL STUMO: There was only one chain of command up through Boeing. It was very difficult for the safety culture to stop something.

STUMO: The aviation subcommittee's ranking Republican, Louisiana Congressman Garret Graves, told the crash victims' families that changes are already underway.

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GARRET GRAVES: Any process to unground this aircraft, as far as I'm concerned, will not be allowed to resemble the process that was allowed to - for these accidents to occur. In fact, I can't even call them accidents - these disasters.

SCHAPER: In a statement, Boeing says the company truly regrets the loss of lives in both crashes and is deeply sorry for the impact to the families and loved ones of those on board. Moments before the hearing started, the aerospace giant announced the hiring of attorneys Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros to oversee distribution of a $50 million fund to the families of crash victims. The money comes with no strings attached. They won't have to sign away their right to sue Boeing to receive the payments.

David Schaper, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUILTY GHOSTS' "GREAT MALEVOLENT WITHHOLDER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.