A man whose wife, three children and mother-in-law died when a Boeing 737 MAX 8 operating Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 crashed shortly after takeoff in March has called for reforms to the way aircraft are certified.
In testimony before the United States House of Representatives Transport and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday (US time) Paul Njoroge spoke of his grief at losing five members of his family in the tragic accident.
He described his wife as a caring homemaker and accountant, his six-year-old son as a super intelligent boy who dreamt of being an astronaut, his four-year-old daughter whose singing delighted everyone, his bubbly nine-month-old daughter as a joy and his mother-in-law as a retired teacher who had shaped the world of generations of young men and women.
“The Boeing 737 MAX crash has killed my wife, my three children, my mum-in-law and 341 others,” Njoroge told the committee, referring to the total number of people killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March and the Lion Air crash in October 2018.
“Today I speak not only with my voice but the voices of my departed family, my mom in law and the other 341 victims.
“It never leaves me that my family’s flesh is there in Ethiopia mixed with the soil and the jet fuel and pieces of the aircraft.”
VIDEO: Paul Njoroge’s testimony before the United States House of Representatives Transport and Infrastructure Committee from the committee’s YouTube channel.
Anti-stall software used on the 737 MAX, known as Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), has been implicated by investigators as a factor in the Ethiopian Airlines accident, as well as the earlier fatal crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018.
Boeing has been working on a software update on MCAS.
However, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in June it had found a “potential risk” with Boeing’s fix that had to be addressed before the aircraft would be cleared to fly.
Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg said recently the company was working to address an additional flight condition to reduce pilot workload and ensure the safety of the aircraft.
Reports indicated it would take until at least September for Boeing to complete work on the issue that the FAA had identified.
In addition to work on the software update, Boeing and the FAA are under scrutiny from legislators over the certification process for the 737 MAX. There are also criminal investigations underway, as well as a formal audit of the FAA’s certification process.
Pilots have also joined a class action against Boeing over the 737 MAX grounding.
Njoroge said the FAA had “recklessly left Boeing to police itself”.
Further, he said the FAA “should have known that the failure to have triple redundancy in critical safety systems could cause crashes and death”.
“The families demand that the 737 MAX 8 be fully re-certified as a new plane because it is too different from the original certified plane,” Njoroge said. “We demand that simulator training be required.”
“Re-certification must take place in combination with a full legislative fix for the aviation safety system.
“Boeing should not be allowed to act like a mere investment company extracting wealth to supercharge shareholder returns at the expense of safety and quality.”
Njoroge was also critical of the use of the term “foreign pilot error” when describing the two tragic accidents.
“On April 4th, three weeks after the deaths of my family, in what I have since learned is a shameful pattern of behaviour by Boeing and airplane manufacturers, Boeing shifted focus from the root cause of the crashes, which is the design flaws in the 737 MAX and MCAS, and started talking about foreign pilot error,” Njoroge said.
“This distracted from correcting the real causes of the crashes and is an insult to humanity.
“Boeing and their apologists want to shift scrutiny from their single-minded quest for short-term profits over safety and place it on foreign pilots, who like domestic American pilots were left in the dark by Boeing.
“Would they have used the term domestic pilot error if the crash happened in the United States? The term foreign pilot error is utter prejudice and a disrespect to pilots and Boeing customers across the world.”
“Boeing used this fallacy of foreign pilot error to avoid the grounding of the 737 MAX after the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 on October 29 last year. That decision killed my family and 152 others in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 four months later.”
Njoroge called on legislators to be “leaders in this fight for aviation safety in the world”
“If Boeing’s wrongful conduct continues, another plane will dive to the ground killing me, you, or your children, or other members of your family,” Njoroge said.
Njoroge, who lives in Canada, said he missed the five members of his family killed on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 “every minute of every day”, adding that it was particularly tough during Canada’s national day celebrations.
“In Canada, Independence Day was celebrated on 1 July. I stayed buried in my little house, in my grief, hearing the sounds of celebration and fireworks in the sky,” Njoroge told the committee. “But all I could think about was the 737 MAX struggling to gain height and eventually diving to the ground, killing my whole family and 152 others.”
“If my wife, my children and my mom in law were alive they would have enjoyed all family activities on Canada Day. Every minute of every day they would be all around me full of life and health.”
Boeing outlines US$50 million in spending for victims of 737 MAX crashes
Meanwhile, Boeing said on Wednesday (US time) it would provide US$50 million for near-term financial assistance to the families left behind by victims of the crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018, and Ethiopian Flight 302 in March 2019, which took the lives of a total of 346 passengers and crew.
The money will come from the US$100 Boeing pledged on July 3, 2019. Boeing said it had retained Washington DC attorney Kenneth Feinberg and his associate Camille Biros, to design and administer the fund.
Both are well known for their work in compensation funds, including the multi-billion dollar Gulf Coast Claims Facility set up in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Muilenburg said he hoped affected families would receive needed assistance as quickly and efficiently as possible through the arrangement with Fienberg and Biros.
“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,” Muilenberg said in a statement.
All monies distributed by the fund will be independent of any resolution through legal processes, according to the announcement from the airline.
Boeing has not yet announced how and when the remaining $US50 million will be distributed, nor whether the fund may be increased.