Senior Coroner Penelope Schofield concluded that the UK victims of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 crash were unlawfully killed. Such verdicts in the UK are very rare, accounting for just 1% of UK inquest verdicts that were given in 2022.
The Ethiopian crash killed 157 people, and 346 deaths are linked to Boeing’s failings in relation to a safety critical device used in their 737 MAX aircraft.
7BR’s Richard Baker KC appeared throughout the inquest process on behalf of the families of British crash victims: Samuel Pegram (25), Oliver Vick (45) and Joanna Toole (36). Richard also represented the family of the crash victim Abdulqadir Qasim (46), whose body was not repatriated into the UK but whose family attended the inquest as interested persons.
Ms Schofield found that a series of failings led to the Ethiopian crash, including deliberate deceptions by employees of Boeing over the operation of a newly developed and critical safety system, known as the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The MCAS had been designed to work in conjunction with a single Angle of Attack Sensor (AOS) to correct the tendency of the 737 MAX’s newly designed engines to push the nose of the aircraft upwards in certain manoeuvres. The system was inherently flawed and in the event that the AOS provided erroneous results to the MCAS led to uncommanded downward movements of the nose in low altitude flight. This led to the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018 and to the crash of ET302 in March 2019, before the aircraft was ultimately subject to grounding worldwide.
Investigations into Boeing’s conduct during the development and marketing of the 737 MAX revealed mismanagement and Boeing ultimately admitted that its employees had deliberately defrauded the Federal Aviation Authority with regard to the level of training that pilots would require before transferring from the previous models of the 737 to the 737 MAX, specifically in relation to the MCAS system. The crashes involving the MAX 8 aircraft were referred to as “the deadliest corporate crime in US history” by US District Judge Reed O’Connor in his judgment dated 9 February 2023, who went on to say “this court has immense sympathy for the victims and loved ones of those who died in the tragic plane crashes resulting from Boeing’s criminal conspiracy.”
Tragically, the investigation by the Ethiopian Air Accident Branch revealed Ethiopian Airlines had requested training information on the Max 737’s systems following the Lion Air crash, but received an incomplete response from Boeing. Ms Schofield found that this missing information would have “significantly altered the outcome.”
The families of the victims of ET302 gave evidence at the inquest about the lives that Jo, Sam, Olly and Abdi had lived and the impact of their loss. Reflecting on the work done by many of the passengers who died on flight ET302, Ms Schofield commented:
“We also know that as a result of this crash we lost a large number of other environmentalist and humanitarians who had dedicated their lives to achieve the goals of protecting the environment and promoting peace, dignity and equality. Many were on their way on that day to further these goals. The true impact of this loss on humanity may never be known.”
Following the outcome, there is now speculation among air travel industry commentators that the unlawful killing finding in the UK could lend support to a possible prosecution for Boeing elsewhere.
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