On March 10, 2019, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane operating as Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed shortly after taking off from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people onboard. The crash is the deadliest aviation disaster in Ethiopia’s history.
The victims of the fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash were from 35 countries and included at least 22 employees working for United Nations-affiliated agencies. The nations of Britain, Canada, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Germany, India, Italy, Slovakia and the United Sates all lost four or more citizens in the crash.
In January of 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Boeing will pay more than $2.5 billion in charges and fines for misleading the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before and after the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash and the Lion Air Flight 610 crash.
The $2.5 billion includes a $243.6 million “criminal monetary penalty,” $1.77 billion in compensation to Boeing 737 MAX airline customers, and a $500 million beneficiaries fund to compensate the families and legal beneficiaries of the passengers tragically killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the Lion Air crash. These fines and charges are in addition to the $100 million that Boeing has already set aside to settle claims brought by the families of the Ethiopia Airlines and Lion Air crash victims.
Aviation attorneys from the law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman represent several families who lost family members in the Ethiopia Airlines and Lion Air tragedies. The Justice Department resolution will have no bearing on the civil litigation against Boeing and other defendants, which is still ongoing.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 Crash Investigation Updates
According to U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Michael Raynor, eight Americans died in the crash. Raynor said the American victims were “people who either lived here or were here to work and contribute to the development of this continent.”
“Eight inspiring lives and eight true tragedies and our hearts go out to everyone impacted by their deaths,” Raynor said of the victims.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 departed from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport at approximately 8:38 a.m. local time bound for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. The passenger manifest included eight flight crew members and 149 passengers.
Minutes after takeoff, the pilot informed air traffic controllers of a problem with the aircraft and requested a return to the airport. At approximately 8:44, just six minutes after takeoff, the plane disappeared from radar and crashed near the town of Bishoftu, some 39 miles southeast of Bole International Airport.
What Caused the Ethiopian Airlines Crash?
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 is the newest version of Boeing’s most popular aircraft. Approximately 350 are in use by 54 operators throughout the world, according to U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records.
But Boeing and its latest aircraft are facing worldwide scrutiny after two devastating 737 MAX 8 crashes over the last six months killed nearly 350 people. In October of 2018, a Lion Air flight crashed shortly after takeoff in Indonesia, killing all 189 people onboard.
Some circumstances between the Lion Air crash and the Ethiopian Airlines crash appear similar, bolstering concerns that a design defect could be at the center of both disasters.
Similarities Between Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Both:
– Involved brand new airplanes that had been delivered straight from Boeing to the airlines within four months of the disasters.
– Crashed shortly after takeoff in generally clear weather conditions.
– Flight crews requested returns to their departure airports but were so imperiled that they could not make it back.
– Entered into steep nosedives.
– No evidence of terrorism thus far in both investigations.
“Two highly-experienced, professional pilots could not recover from what appear to be out-of-control stalls, facts which reveal the most probable explanation for both the Lion Air crash and this crash is a design defect in the airplane’s stall recognition and recovery systems,” said board-certified trial attorney, Ronald L.M. Goldman from the law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman in the aftermath of the ET-302 crash.
What is Boeing MCAS?
Boeing marketed the 737 MAX to airlines to save money with reduced fuel costs, operating cost reductions, and not having to retrain pilots on using the new version. By limiting the difference between the old 737 and the 737 MAX, Boeing could save airlines from having to put their pilots in simulators for hours to learn the MAX’s new features.
The pitch appealed to airlines with 737s already in their fleet – over 5,000 have been sold.
But the wholesale changes Boeing applied to the 737 MAX were significant – the engines had to be mounted further apart, which changed the aerodynamics. The change, in turn, causes the plane to lift its nose, which can trigger a stall under certain circumstances.
To address this, Boeing added a special technology called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), intended to automatically lower the nose to head off an aerodynamic stall.
The MCAS uses airspeed and other sensor data to compute when a dangerous condition has developed; if the sensed angle of attack (AOA) exceeds certain thresholds based on airspeed and altitude, the system is activated.
The MCAS works by tilting part of the horizontal stabilizer in the tail of the aircraft, known as a trim tab, which is operated by a jackscrew. Officials investigating the Ethiopian Airlines crash have found physical evidence that the trim tab had been configured to react as if the airplane was stalling, and sharply lower the nose.
According to media reports, Boeing sold its standard base model 737 MAX 8 without two key safety devices—Angle of attack (AOA) indicators or AOA disagree lights—which experts say could have helped the pilots of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 diagnose and address the problems they encountered before both planes crashed.
AOA refers to angle of the chord of the wing to the relative wind. This may, and usually does, have something to do with the pitch up or down of the nose, but not necessarily so. An AOA disagree light illuminates if the plane’s sensors are giving contradictory signals. A pilot cannot “see” the angle of attack necessarily, so an instrument that gives the pilot that information can be very valuable to avoid stalling.
“Boeing chose to make these two vital safety devices add-on options instead of including them as standard equipment. The FAA should not have certified the 737 MAX to be sold as a passenger jet without requiring this safety equipment. The airlines are complicit by not requiring these features to be included as standard equipment, and if not, by failing to buy the options in the interest of passenger safety. After all, these devices’ combined cost is less than one tenth of one percent of the cost of the airplane, and can save lives.” – Aviation Attorney Ronald L.M. Goldman
It appears certain that the pilots in both the Lion Air crash and the Ethiopian Airlines crash did not know how to deal with this issue because they were never trained for it, and possibly did not even know of the existence of the MCAS.
Boeing 737 MAX 8 Grounded Worldwide
China, Indonesia and several other airlines around the world were among the first to ground Boeing 737 MAX 8s following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. China alone operates nearly 100 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, more than a quarter the total in the world.
China’s announcement grounding the MAX 8 prompted a massive sell-off of Boeing stock, which fell by 9% the day after the fatal crash.
In March 2019, the Boeing 737 MAX was grounded worldwide after the FAA received evidence of accident similarities between the Lion Air crash and the Ethiopian Airlines crash. By the time the MAX was grounded worldwide, however, most other regulators had already grounded the aircraft. By March 18,2019, all 387 MAX aircraft in operation were banned from service.
Boeing Withheld Information About Potential Hazards with 737 MAX
In November of 2018, just weeks after the Lion Air Flight 610 crash, the Wall Street Journal reported that Boeing “withheld information about potential hazards associated with a new flight-control feature suspected of playing a role in last month’s fatal Lion Air jet crash…”
According to the article, in certain circumstances, the Boeing 737 MAX 8’s automated stall prevention system could push the plane down “unexpectedly and so strongly that flight crews can’t pull it back up.” In a safety bulletin issued a week after the Lion Air crash, Boeing told airlines that the issue could result in a steep nosedive or crash, even if pilots are flying manually and do not anticipate flight-control computers kicking in.
Safety experts told WSJ that neither airline managers nor pilots were told about the new flight-control system on the 737 MAX 8, and were therefore unprepared to deal with the possible risks. The FAA issued an airworthiness directive (AD) in November to instruct operators how to train pilots to deal with the issue.
International Aviation Accident Attorneys with Experience Litigating Against Boeing
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman represents victims harmed in aviation disasters, including international commercial crashes. Our firm has a track record of success in claims against some of the world’s largest international airliners, including, among many others:
- Aero Mexico
- Asiana Airlines
- British European Airways
- China Eastern Airlines
- Korean Air
- Lion Air
- Singapore Airlines
- SAS-Scandinavian Airline Systems
- TACA Airlines
Our attorneys have also handled international aviation cases involving airlines and U.S. manufacturers that do business worldwide, including, among others:
- McDonnell Douglas
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman senior shareholder Ronald L.M. Goldman has been litigating aviation mechanical defect cases for more than 40 years. In the 1970s, Ron represented plaintiffs in a case stemming from the British European Airways Flight 548 crash in London, United Kingdom, which appears to share similarities with the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash.
Like the ET302 crash, British European Airways (BEA) Flight 548 crashed minutes after takeoff, killing all onboard. The crash sequence started with retraction movement of the front (leading edge) slats (droops, in English terms). These devices are part of a high lift system that enlarges the wing in order to provide lift at lower speeds, and to streamline the wing after climb to gain more speed.
The moment the droops started to retract, the lift was lost and therefore the wing (the whole airplane) stalled. The pilots did not know of the droops’ movement as it was uncommanded, so they did not understand that they were stalling. In fact, this crash case coined the term “out of configuration stall.”
There was no warning on the panel that the droops were moving out of takeoff configuration. Since the stall occurred without a stall warning (pilots are trained to recognize the edge of a stall, and to recover once that is appreciated), the pilots had no notice that they were in fact in a stall, and believed they had a failure of the stall recovery system; the system was trying to recover from a stall but all indications in the cockpit were that there was no stall. Consequently, the pilots disabled the stall recovery system, sealing their fate.
Investigators concluded that several factors caused the deep stall, noting that an unspecified “technical problem” was apparently resolved prior to takeoff. In the case that followed, Ron secured a settlement for his clients in the U.S., even though the crash occurred in a foreign country.
In 2017, Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman earned a groundbreaking ruling in an international plane crash case against Germanwings stemming from the fatal crash of Flight 9525 in 2015. Our firm represented the family of the only Americans onboard the ill-fated flight, Yvonne Selke and her daughter, Emily.
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman filed suit against Germanwings and other defendants in Virginia on behalf of surviving members of the Selke family. Germanwings filed a motion to dismiss the case, alleging lack of personal jurisdiction over the airline in Virginia on the grounds that it was a German corporation with no offices in the U.S., had never flown its planes into the United States, and that tickets for the fatal flight weren’t codeshare tickets with United.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee ruled that the “Court has personal jurisdiction over Germanwings because the airline purposely availed itself of Virginia by transacting business in the Commonwealth through its agent, United. This business activity resulted in the sale of tickets that gave rise to Plaintiffs’ cause of action.”
The National Law Journal selected Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman as a finalist for Elite Trial Lawyer honors in the practice area of consumer protection for the firm’s work in Selke, et al. v. Germanwings GMBH, et al.
If you lost a loved one in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, the law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman can help you. Contact us today or call us toll-free at (855) 948-5098 to speak with an attorney about your claim.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 Crash Investigation Updates
Boeing to Pay $2.5 Billion, Criminally Charged Over 737 MAX Fraud Conspiracy | Jan. 7, 2021
Boeing will pay $2.5 billion to resolve a criminal charge related to a conspiracy to defraud the FAA in connection with the agency’s evaluation of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane. According to the U.S. Justice Department, Boeing was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States.
The $2.5 billion is composed of a criminal monetary penalty of $243.6 million, compensation payments to Boeing’s 737 MAX airline customers of $1.77 billion, and a $500 million beneficiaries fund to compensate the heirs, relatives, and legal beneficiaries of the 346 passengers who died in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610 crashes.
The FAA gave Boeing clearance to return the 737 MAX to the skies. The announcement came roughly 20 months after a worldwide grounding of the aircraft following two fatal crashes that killed hundreds of people.
American Airlines will resume flights with the 737 MAX in late December and early January 2021. United Airlines and Southwest Airlines plan to reintroduce the aircraft in the first and second quarters respectively.
A report from the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure blamed Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for “repeated and serious failures." According to the report, the fatal crashes of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610 were “a horrific culmination of a series of faulty technical assumptions by Boeing’s engineers, a lack of transparency on the part of Boeing’s management, and grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA.”
"What’s particularly infuriating is how Boeing and FAA both gambled with public safety in the critical time period between the two crashes,” said committee chairman, Rep. Peter DeFazio, (D-OR). The report alleges that Boeing made “extensive efforts to cut costs” that jeopardized safety and withheld “crucial information” from the FAA.
The head of the FAA acknowledged that his agency and Boeing made mistakes in the development of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. FAA head Steve Dickson testified before the Senate Commerce Committee that the “manufacturer made mistakes and the FAA made mistakes in its oversight.”
Ethiopian officials from the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau say a defective flight control system triggered by faulty sensor data is at least partly the cause of the ET-302 crash last year. Investigators added that the training on MAX planes provided by Boeing "was found to be inadequate.” According to a report, the flight control system, known as MCAS, was activated four times when the pilots were fighting to regain control of the plane in the moments before the fatal crash.
Boeing confirmed in a statement that the troubled 737 MAX aircraft would remain grounded worldwide until at least June or July of 2020. The announcement comes just weeks after Boeing forced out CEO Dennis Muilenburg and replaced him with David Calhoun, a Boeing board member and former executive at General Electric.
Boeing announced on Monday that it will halt production of the 737 MAX in January. The aircraft maker currently produces about 40 MAX jets each month and has approximately 400 completed aircraft in storage, waiting to be delivered. The company stated it would “prioritize the delivery of stored aircraft and temporarily suspend production on the 737 program.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not said when the 737 MAX would be cleared to fly again. The agency must first approve changes to the aircraft and determine updated flight crew training procedures. Boeing had hoped to get its planes back in the air by the end of 2019, but the FAA recently said that Boeing’s timeline was not realistic.
Boeing has not said when it expects to resume 737 MAX production. Will it be too late? Will airlines have moved on to cancel their 737 MAX orders and buy jets made by others, such as Airbus?
If there is any moral lesson to be learned from Boeing’s decision to gamble with the lives of passengers by prioritizing profits over safety, one hopes it will sound the alarm to corporations all over the globe that the cost to the corporation of losing the gamble could be its own death knell