Boeing’s issues with its planes predate the issues with the 737 Max and show a history of efforts to conceal problems from regulators and the public, according to a former inspector general with the Department of Transportation.
The complaint (PDF) was filed on May 17 in South Carolina federal court by the family of George K. Thugge, who died on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302; a Boeing 737 Max which crashed in March 10, 2019, killing all 157 passengers and crew.
The accident drew immediate comparisons to another deadly crash last year, involving the same new Boeing 737 Max plane.
On October 10, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the sea just 13 minutes into its flight, killing all 189 passengers and crew. Investigators have determined the pilots fought for 11 minutes to keep the plane in the air, likely due to a problem with the plane’s Angle of Attack (AOA) sensor, which kept telling an automated system, which the pilots could not shut off, to point the nose down.
After similarities were discovered between the two crashes, nations worldwide grounded Boeing’s entire 737 MAX fleet until further investigations into this latest crash could be completed and any safety issues addressed.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Mary Schiavo, a former Inspector General for the Department of Transportation, argues that Boeing has known about problems with its 737 line of planes for decades, long before the Max model. However, the lawsuit claims that the company’s efforts to cover up the problems and a lack of strict federal oversight have allowed the risks to passengers to continue.
“Boeing had problems with the 737 nose-diving and killing plane loads of people long before 2018-2019 737 Max 8 crashes. In 1991 to 1994, 737’s were also diving themselves into the ground,” the lawsuit states. “The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) could not figure out why, but Boeing knew why and did not reveal what it knew about the defects in the plane until after more than one 737 drove itself into the ground.”
The lawsuit states that it was only after a second plane crashed in 1994 that it was determined that two 737s had went into uncommanded nose dives and crashed because of a design failure known as a “rudder hard-over.” Schaivo claims Boeing covered up the problem and did not reveal what it had learned.
The lawsuit claims Boeing again went into cover-up mode after the Lion Air crash and resisted calls to ground the planes. However, in this latest series of incidents, it was forced to ground the vehicles and address the issues due to outside investigations.
Investigators have determined that the plane crashes were likely due to a problem with the planes’ Angle of Attack (AOA) sensor, which kept telling an automated system, which the pilots could not shut off, to point the nose down.
After similarities were discovered between the two crashes, nations worldwide grounded Boeing’s entire 737 MAX fleet until further investigations into this latest crash could be completed and any safety issues addressed. Investigations appear to strongly indicate conflicting AOA sensor data and the automated flight system’s efforts to address the perceived problem, played significant roles in both accidents.
The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have launched a criminal probe into the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX jet, in addition to ongoing investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board as well as French investigators.
The FAA says the 737 MAX will return to service when the agency’s analysis of safety data indicates it is appropriate.
The Thugge complaint is the latest in a growing number of wrongful death lawsuits from family members of victims of both accidents.