By Lori Aratani / The Washington Post
A Canadian man who lost five members of his family when a Boeing 737 Max jet crashed in March, said that while he believes U.S. lawmakers are committed to conducting a thorough review of what led to the tragedy, he doubts it will be enough to restore public faith in the aviation giant.
“I don’t think the public will trust Boeing, to be honest,” said Paul Njoroge, whose wife, mother-in-law and three children were killed March 10 when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa. “Do you want to fly on those planes? Do you want your children to fly on those planes? Do you want your family members to fly on those planes?”
Njoroge was one of two family members of victims to appear Wednesday before a House panel examining the circumstances surrounding the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines flight and that of a Lion Air flight in October. More than 300 people died in the two crashes.
The 737 Max has remained grounded since March, and it is not clear when regulators will allow them to return to service.
“Your presence is a reminder to all of us that the flying public and individuals are much more important than the other folks we tend to listen to around here,” said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., chairman of the subcommittee on aviation. “We appreciate your willingness to spend some time with us to remind us of that.”
Wednesday’s hearing was the third held by House lawmakers as part of a larger probe focused on determining whether the Federal Aviation Administration took appropriate steps to ensure the 737 Max was safe and what role Boeing may have played in the aircraft’s certification process.
Njoroge was joined by Michael Stumo, whose daughter, Samya Stumo, was among the 157 passengers and crew members killed when Flight 302 crashed. The two men sat side-by-side at the witness table, holding a banner with the pictures of the Stumo family; Njoroge’s wife, Carolyne; his mother-in-law, Anne Karanja; and his children Ryan, 6, Kelli, 4 and Rubi, 9 months.
“I think about their last six minutes a lot,” Njoroge told the committee. “My wife and mother-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.”
Lawmakers asked the men what actions should be taken to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
Njoroge said Boeing must be held responsible for flaws in its redesign of the 737 Max and for failing to tell pilots about the changes, including the addition of a software system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). He said the FAA also must change the process it uses to determine whether new planes, or derivatives of existing aircraft, are safe to fly.
MCAS is an anti-stall system that was added to the Max jets to compensate for changes in the 737’s design. Preliminary investigations into both crashes have indicated that a malfunction of MCAS may have contributed to both crashes by making it more difficult for the pilots to regain control of their aircraft once they realized they were in trouble. The Lion Air flight crashed into the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia, killing all 189 people aboard.
Stumo said the FAA must reexamine Boeing’s role in the certification process and that pilots should be trained on simulators, not iPads, as has previously been done.
“If nothing else, Paul’s family, our family and the rest of our families died in vain, but maybe not quite as much in vain if we can do a comprehensive fix,” Stumo said.
Boeing was expected to complete a software fix designed to address concerns with the MCAS in April. However, problems with the update have delayed implementation. The FAA and Boeing also have discovered other problems with the aircraft during the process.
In an interview following his testimony, Njoroge told reporters that lawmakers must realize the crashes are a “global tragedy.”
“It’s not just about me, Michael and the families of the other victims,” he said. “It could have been them. It could be your children. It could be your spouses. It could be your family. That’s what I want (lawmakers) to understand. The two crashes may have happened out in Indonesia, in Ethiopia, but they could have happened in the United States.”
On Wednesday, Boeing announced it was changing the way it would distribute a $100 million fund it created earlier this month to help families and community members affected by the crashes. Previously, the company said the money would be given to local governments and nonprofits to distribute to families over several years. Now, $50 million of that will be put in a fund to be paid directly to families. Boeing has hired Kenneth Feinberg, who played a similar role in determining compensation for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to administer the fund.
“The tragic loss of life in both accidents continues to weigh heavily on all of us at Boeing, and we have the utmost sympathy for the loved ones of those on board,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said.
Boeing said the money distributed through the funds would be “independent of any resolution provide through the legal process.”
Stumo and Njoroge are among the families that have sued Boeing in connection with the crashes.