Families of Max8 crash victims accuse Boeing of playing safety ‘roulette’ as troubled company reports $355m loss

Families of Boeing Max 8 crash victims expressed their disappointment after meeting with Department of Justice officials on Thursday to discuss potential criminal charges against the company.

Relatives said they left the meeting “disappointed”, stating that Boeing is playing “roulette” with passenger safety. Two of the company’s Max 8 planes crashed in 2018 and 2019.

The first accident happened in Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 passengers and crew. The following year, an Ethiopian Airlines flight was lost with 157 people on board. Families of a dozen victims of the Ethiopian Airlines flight met with the DoJ in Washington.

The families say that Boeing violated a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) to change its compliance program following the tragedies. As long as the company abided by the agreement, federal prosecutors said they’d ask a judge to dismiss a fraud conspiracy charge against it.

The agreement was set to expire on 7 January 2024, two days after Alaska Airlines flight 1282, in which a door plug blew off the side of one of its planes. Now, the families say the company should be held accountable with a criminal trial.

“Boeing has already admitted it had committed a crime”, Attorney Paul G Cassell said during a news conference on Wednesday. “Charges have been filed in Texas. We simply want that case to move forward and let the jury decide whether Boeing is a criminal or not”.

Naoise Connolly Ryan, who lost her husband Mick Ryan on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, said that the DPA was a “miscarriage of justice right from the start”.

She added: “It should never have come about. Boeing should have been prosecuted for manslaughter for the deaths of 346 people”.

Zipporah Kuria, from London, lost her dad, Joseph Kuria, 55, in the crash. said the meeting had left her “quite disheartened” and that it was “really disappointing.”

“What is required to do the right thing? Do we need another crash?” she said.

“We have to hope and pray that they will do the right thing and do their jobs in this situation...it’s not about a miscarriage of justice any more it’s about the public’s safety.”

She added: “We are literally putting our lives in the hands of people who do not mind playing a roulette game, risking our lives. They do not mind if we are the price that has to be paid over and over.”

The Justice Department said it would give the company 30 days notice about whether they’ll dismiss the charges.

The calls for accountability come on the same day Boeing reported $355m losses in the first quarter of 2024 – coming off the back of a growing litany of concerns about the safety of its aircraft.

According to quarterly results published on Wednesday, the company’s revenue declined by eight per cent year-over-year to $16.6bn.

This marks the seventh consecutive quarterly loss for the aerospace company, as it faces damaging whistleblower complaints, congressional hearings and major safety fears about its 737 Max 9 planes after a door blew off mid-flight.

“Our first quarter results reflect the immediate actions we’ve taken to slow down 737 production to drive improvements in quality,” Boeing President and Chief Executive Dave Calhoun said.

Despite the sharp decline, the results were actually better than analysts had predicted.

Boeing has fallen under increased scrutiny since a door panel on a 737 Max 9 blew off during an Alaska Airlines flight in January.

Several passengers on board were injured in the incident, which grounded all Boeing 737 Max 9s and prompted investigations by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board into the aircraft manufacturer and Spirit AeroSystems, which made the door plug.

Reports released since have suggested the plane did not have the critical bolts it needed to keep the door plug in place when it left the factory.

Photo released by the National Transportation Safety Board shows a gaping hole where the paneled-over door fell off Boeing plane mid-flight in January (via REUTERS)
Photo released by the National Transportation Safety Board shows a gaping hole where the paneled-over door fell off Boeing plane mid-flight in January (via REUTERS)

Following the incident, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, which operate 79 of the planes, said they, too, found loose bolts on some of their aircraft – while three of the passengers on board the flight filed a lawsuit against Boeing for $1bn.

The complaint, filed on 20 February, alleged that the aircraft manufacturer’s negligence caused the incident in early January.

In March, the Federal Aviation Authority said that Boeing had failed to meet quality control standards during manufacturing, while another report raised concerns about staff being comfortable in reporting safety issues.

“Boeing must commit to real and profound improvements,” said FAA administrator Michael Whitaker. “Making foundational change will require a sustained effort from Boeing’s leadership, and we are going to hold them accountable every step of the way.”

The FAA has also barred the company from increasing its output.

Mr Calhoun has said that the company “will develop the comprehensive action plan with measurable criteria that demonstrates the profound change that Administrator Whitaker and the FAA demand”.

Mr Calhoun announced in March that he is resigning from his role as CEO at the end of the year. Boeing’s chief of commercial airlines Stan Deal has already stepped down.