Boeing crash families demand record $25bn fine

Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun before Congress this week
Boeing chief executive Dave Calhoun before Congress this week [Reuters]

The families of victims in two Boeing 737 Max plane crashes have asked for prosecutions and a fine of $24.8bn for "the deadliest corporate crime in US history".

The families' lawyer Paul Cassell said the amount was "justified and clearly appropriate" given "enormous human costs of Boeing's crimes".

In a 32-page letter seen by the BBC, Mr Cassell said that the US government should prosecute those leading the company when 346 people were killed in two crashes in 2018 and 2019.

The letter cited the apology by Boeing's chief executive Dave Calhoun on Tuesday while he gave evidence to Congress.

"I apologise for the grief that we have caused," he said, as he was heckled by family members of victims of the crashes.

Two 737 Max aircraft were lost in separate but almost identical accidents that killed 346 people.

In October 2018, all 189 on a Lion Air flight died after the aircraft crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after take-off from Jakarta, Indonesia.

In March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed six minutes after take-off from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. All 157 on-board were killed.

Both crashes were linked to faulty flight control systems.

Mr Calhoun acknowledged in his Congressional appearance that the company had made mistakes and said it had "learned" from the past.

He also acknowledged that Boeing had retaliated against whistleblowers but said he had "listened" to those employees.

The Justice Department is considering whether to revive a criminal charge of fraud against Boeing laid in 2021, that was linked to the two crashes.

The charge has laid dormant since the company acknowledged in a settlement that it had mislead air-safety regulators about aspects if the 737 Max, and promised to create a new compliance system to detect and prevent further fraud.

Last month, prosecutors determined that the settlement was violated when a door panel flew off a 737 Max plane during an Alaska Airlines flight in January, leaving a gaping hole in the fuselage mid-flight.

The Justice Department has until 7 July decide whether to revive the case.

In the letter, Mr Cassell said his clients recommended that the department order a portion of any future fine to be used to create an independent monitor of the company's safety and compliance measures.

Families of those killed in the crashes attended Tuesday's hearing in Congress and held up photographs of loved ones.

“I flew from England to Washington DC to hear in person what the Boeing CEO has to say to the Senate and to the world about any safety improvements made at that corporation,” said Zipporah Kuria, whose father was killed in the 2019 crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet.

“I also continue to press the US government to hold Boeing and its corporate executives criminally responsible for the deaths of 346 people. We will not rest until we see justice.”