Families of Boeing crash victims ask for $24bn fine for ‘deadliest corporate crime in US history’

The families of the victims of two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes have asked the Justice Department on Wednesday to seek a fine of up to $24.78bn from the planemakers and criminally prosecute them.

"Because Boeing’s crime is the deadliest corporate crime in US history, a maximum fine of more than $24bn is legally justified and clearly appropriate," Paul Cassel, a lawyer representing 15 families, wrote in a letter to the Justice Department.

Boeing is facing a string of lawsuits relating to manufacturing malpractice after a door plug of a 737 Max 9 blew off during an Alaska Airlines flight in January. Before this, Max jets also crashed in 2018 in Indonesia and in 2019 in Ethiopia, killing 346 people. The incident exposed continued safety and quality issues at Boeing.

The families of the 2018 and 2019 crash victims said the department could potentially suspend $14bn to $22bn of the fine "on the condition that Boeing devote those suspended funds to an independent corporate monitor and related improvements in compliance and safety".

It comes a day after Boeing CEO David Calhoun apologised to the families of crash victims, saying the company was “totally committed” to future aircraft safety, as he faced an intense grilling at a special Senate hearing.

Mr Calhoun appeared in front of a Homeland Security investigations subcommittee on Tuesday, where he was questioned on production inspection processes and whistleblower safety.

“I want to personally apologise, on behalf of everyone at Boeing. We are deeply sorry for your losses. Nothing is more important than the safety of the people who step on board our airplanes,” he told the families in attendance.

“Every day we seek to honour the memory of those lost through a steadfast commitment to safety and quality.”

In the letter, the families also said Boeing’s board of directors should be ordered to meet with them and the department should "launch criminal prosecutions of the responsible corporate officials at Boeing at the time of the two crashes".

In May, the Justice Department said it determined Boeing violated a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement that shielded the company from a criminal charge of conspiracy to commit fraud arising from fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.

But Boeing last week told the government it did not violate the agreement. Federal prosecutors have until 7 July to inform a federal judge in Texas of their plans, which could be proceeding with a criminal case or negotiating a plea deal with Boeing. The Justice Department could also extend the deferred prosecution agreement for a year.

The letter noted that Senator Richard Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and held a hearing with Boeing CEO, said: "There is near overwhelming evidence in my view as a former prosecutor that prosecution should be pursued."

The two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 MAX planes in 2018 and 2019 in Indonesia and Ethiopia led to the best-selling plane’s worldwide grounding for 20 months. A safety system called MCAS was linked to both fatal crashes.

Additional reporting by agencies