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Meet the Family Suing Boeing in First U.S. Wrongful Death Suit Since Ethiopia Crash Kills 157

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The first American lawsuit has been filed against Boeing for its role in the Ethiopian Airlines crash that left 157 people dead last month. The family of 24-year-old Samya Stumo, who died in the crash, sued Boeing and filed a claim against the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday. They filed the suit in federal court in Chicago, where Boeing is headquartered. It reads in part, “Blinded by its greed, Boeing haphazardly rushed the 737 MAX 8 to market, with the knowledge and tacit approval of the United States Federal Aviation Administration … Boeing’s decision to put profits over safety … and the regulators that enabled it, must be held accountable for their reckless actions.” Samya Stumo’s father, mother and brother spoke alongside their lawyer at a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: After months of dismissing the concerns of flyers, Boeing has for the first time admitted wrongdoing in the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed last month, killing 157 people, all on board. This is Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg speaking Thursday.

DENNIS MUILENBURG: We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 MAX accidents. … It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it. And we know how to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: The apology came right after Ethiopia released preliminary findings from an ongoing investigation into the crash and after the first American wrongful death lawsuit against Boeing was filed. The report found similarities in the technical issues experienced by pilots on both the Ethiopian Airlines flight and October’s Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610, which also crashed just minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 people on board. Both flights were on the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

The family of 24-year-old Samya Stumo, who died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, filed a lawsuit against Boeing and a claim against the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Chicago, where Boeing is headquartered. It reads in part, “Blinded by its greed, Boeing haphazardly rushed the 737 MAX 8 to market, with the knowledge and tacit approval of the United States Federal Aviation Administration … Boeing’s decision to put profits over safety … and the regulators that enabled it, must be held accountable for their reckless actions,” unquote. Samya Stumo’s father, mother and brother spoke alongside their lawyer at the news conference on Thursday.

MICHAEL STUMO: My name is Michael Stumo, and I am Samya Stumo’s dad. My wife Nadia woke me up early in the morning on March 10th to say that a plane crash had happened in Ethiopia. I did not believe Samya could be on that plane. I could not lose another child.

But she was on the plane. I could not breathe. My son Tor paced and sobbed. We drove three hours to New York City to find the earliest airplane to go to Addis.

Twenty years ago, we lost another child, Nels, to cancer. He was 2. Samya and Nels were best friends. When my wife and I were in hospitals with Nels, Samya was frustrated that she was not being taught how to read. So she taught herself to read. She was 4 years old.

After Nels died, we bought a farm and moved to it, because life, we discovered, is short. We homeschooled Samya and our two sons, Adnaan and Tor. We needed to be together. Samya raised pigs at the age of 9, driving a tractor and a stripped-down jeep across the fields to haul water to them. She eventually went to high school and graduated early.

She traveled the world, from Peru to Denmark to Tanzania. But despite job opportunities on other continents, she pursued a job in Washington, D.C., and was hired by ThinkWell, a global health nonprofit organization based there.

She wanted be nearer to us and to her grandmother, her grandfather and her great-uncle and great-aunt, just in case something happened.

Something did happen. But it happened to her. Her new employer sent Samya to Uganda to set up new offices. The Boeing 737 Max 8 drove itself and fully buried itself in the ground at hundreds of miles per hour, disintegrating into small pieces under the earth.

We flew there to bring her home. But we learned there were no survivors. Then we learned we could not bring home her body or even fragments of her body. I stood on that Ethiopian agricultural field, with my family, looking at the crater. Feeling her.

This should not happen to anyone again. That’s why we’re here.

FRANK PITRE: We will now hear from Samya’s mother Nadia.

NADIA MILLERON: I am Samya’s mom, and though I’m her elder, I learned and keep learning so much from my only daughter. We would all want to be like Samya, who was lighthearted. She brushed past negative, inconsequential comments and focused on what is good and what could get done. Samya was a binding force in our family, among her friends, in her academic departments. She was extraordinary with logistics, getting people together to have good times, eat and dance together and feel connected. This led to marvelous cooperative projects, both socially and in anthropology and global health. Samya could marshal and analyze data for the benefit of real people in need. She linked technical and human skills.

There is a huge hole in our family and among her friends. We struggle to build up our connections as she did so effortlessly, and with grace and fun.

We are one of 337 families with such huge holes because this aircraft didn’t function. Samya and her fellow passengers shouldn’t have died. Those in charge of creating and selling this plane did not treat Samya as they would their own daughters. We as passengers need to demand that planes be safe so that no one else dies. Profits should not come before safety. And we are making this effort here to help prevent a third crash.

FRANK PITRE: Thank you, Nadia. Our next speaker is Samya’s brother Adnaan.

ADNAAN STUMO: My sister was my constant companion since she was born. We were homeschooled together, played music together, and competed on the same sports teams throughout our childhoods in New England. We spent countless hours exploring the woods and fields around the farm and inventing fantastical worlds in the barn. Samya had vivid memories of those childhood years, and we would regularly reminisce as adults.

My sister was intensely competitive and never wanted to be the second child in anything but age. As we grew, Samya outstripped me in many ways. She had so much to teach me about compassion, self-awareness, sensitivity to others, focus, and just straight blithe joyfulness. But what she had offer the world of global health was even greater. Give Samya the next half-century to apply her intelligence and zeal to the institutional failings of international aid, and the world would be utterly changed. The butterfly effect of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash is massive: the potential of my sister and 156 others driven straight into the ground because of Boeing’s greed.

I will keep Samya’s influence present in my mind and in my life. I knew her so well, and I can imagine her advice and consolation in the rough times ahead. I feel the most hopeless when I imagine my young cousins, and the future children of my brother and myself, growing up without Samya’s tremendous presence, and never even realizing what they’ve lost.

FRANK PITRE: My name is Frank Pitre, with the law firm of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy. …

The history is that Boeing, 10 years ago, was facing competition, and it was facing competition from Airbus. There’s no secret. So, around 2010, Airbus was coming out with more fuel-efficient engines. Boeing saw that as a threat to their international competition for the sale of aircraft. They knew that they were behind, and they needed to get their planes out in the marketplace that could compete with Airbus quickly; ergo, the motivation.

What they decided to do is they decided that they couldn’t wait the amount of time it would take to fully redesign an aircraft, so they took a shortcut. They used the existing airframe, and what they did is they decided to put larger engines and more fuel-efficient engines on that plane—except for a couple of problems. When you put larger engines on a plane that was that old and vintage—the plane was designed where the wings are very low to the ground. So when you put those larger engines on, you need more clearance. So what happens is, you have to move those engines forward. You’ll also have to move the landing gears forward. And when you change the position of the engines, you change the landing gear, you change the aerodynamics of the aircraft.

Now, when that happens, you do those kinds of changes, you have to retrain pilots, because the plane behaves differently. And in this case, the plane, because of the larger engines, has a tendency to thrust upward faster and more powerfully than the originally designed 737 model.

Well, rather than spend the time and force air carriers to take time to train their pilots and to go through more costly training, the decision was that Boeing would come up with its own software that would help have the plane behave the same way the older 737 behaved. And they did that with the design of the MCAS system. The MCAS system is an automated system that would control the tendency of the airplane to buck upward, that when it sensed the plane and the nose of the aircraft was moving up, the automatic signals would be sent to the MCAS system and the horizontal stabilizer to push the nose down. Now, that would all be done automatically without the knowledge of the pilots. And that’s critical to avoid retraining. The pilots could operate the plane the same way they operated prior iterations. The system would all take care of adjustments to the aircraft and its behavior tendencies automatically, without any need to retrain pilots.

On October 29th of 2018, we know there was the Lion Air crash. And that’s when things began to unravel. The dangers that had been concealed about the plane’s tendencies and its aerodynamics now start to manifest themselves. At a meeting where some pilot union representatives were present, a Boeing executive was quoted as saying they didn’t pass on the differences in the plane’s tendencies and the operation of the MCAS system onto pilots, because they didn’t want to inundate them with new information.

In November of 2018, as you know from the history, Boeing and the FAA issued, in our view, incomplete and ineffective airworthiness directives that failed to address the design problems and led people to believe that the problem could be cured by simply telling pilots to deactivate the system and everything would be fine. No need to worry, the plane was safe.

Unfortunately, history had to repeat itself. A hundred and fifty-six people lost their lives. …

The other piece of information that came out just a couple days ago, if we could—John?

JOHN: Sorry.

FRANK PITRE: —was a letter that was written by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, dated April 2nd, 2019. There’s copies here if you want it; you can read it for yourself. But it had received information from whistleblowers that the FAA was known to have inspectors who were not properly trained or qualified to do their job of oversight, and that that lack of training, lack of qualification included individuals who were involved in the 737 MAX 8. In light of that information, it was left to Boeing to police itself with respect to safety concerns about the airplane. It is reported in the Senate letter that the FAA may have been notified about the deficiencies as early as August of 2018. Once again, a failure.

REPORTER: To hear all of these details, to hear about all of the correspondence and the information prior to the crash, your reaction is visible, some of you, but if you could articulate how you are feeling, hearing about these, what seem to be, lapses leading up to your loved one’s crash?

NADIA MILLERON: Obviously, this could have been prevented. And that’s what makes me cry, because all of these people—it’s not just Samya. You know, one family lost their whole family—grandparents, parents, children. Another guy lost his wife and his 1-year-old child. I mean, this is just repeated 157 times. We’ve met so many of these families. And this could have all been prevented. And that’s why, when we read the statement from the pilot, that’s why I’m crying, because it’s just horrible.

Like, it’s not—it’s not like it was an accident. This is not an accident. This is something that could have been prevented and should have been prevented. And the people who died in Indonesia, probably theirs should have been prevented, but certainly their deaths should have not been in vain. And more deaths happened. So, that’s why we keep talking about a third crash. That is entirely possible, based on the whole situation as exists now. And my uncle said these planes should be grounded. I don’t know another way that we could be sure that this isn’t going to happen a third time. And as somebody who’s lost the dearest person in my life, you know, I want her death not to be in vain. I don’t want anybody else to die.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Samya Stumo’s mother, Nadia Milleron, as well as her father, Michael Stumo, her brother Adnaan and the family’s attorney, Frank Pitre. When we come back, we’ll speak with consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Samya Stumo was his great-niece. Stay with us.

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