What are the cases against Boeing? True story behind Netflix doc Downfall
A new documentary about the 2019 Boeing airplane crashes has arrived on Netflix – but what happened?
Netflix's latest documentary Downfall: The Case Against Boeing arrived on the streamer at the weekend, with the film examining the two Boeing plane crashes that killed more than 300 people in 2019.
The documentary speaks to journalists, victims' families and experts to look at how these terrible tragedies happened and how the company dealt with them, with the Wall Street Journal's Andy Pasztor saying right at the start: "They had the public's trust. And then two planes dropped out of the sky."
But what is the true story behind the Boeing 737 MAX crashes and what are the lawsuits that have been filed against Boeing? Read on to find out more about Downfall: The Case Against Boeing.
What happened to Lion Air Flight 610?
There are two crashes that are explored in the Netflix documentary: Lion Air Flight 610 in 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in 2019.
More than 300 lives were lost across both air crashes which happened within five months of each other.
Lion Air Flight 610 was meant to be travelling from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang on 29th October 2018, however it crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after take off.
All 189 passengers and crew were killed. The plane was a brand new Boeing 737 MAX and declared the deadliest accident in Lion Air's history.
After the crash, many people blamed the pilots initially. However, Indonesian investigators found the flight data recorder (FDR), which is one of the black boxes, and an investigation began by Singapore's Transport Safety Investigation Bureau. However, the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was still missing.
In September, a draft of the Indonesian government's findings claimed that "design and oversight lapses" played a key role in the crash, according to Reuters. A month later, Lion Air's chief executive said that the same plane had been on a flight beforehand and experienced a technical problem, although this had been resolved according to procure.
The country's National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) announced their official findings in November, revealing that one of the aircraft's airspeed indicators had malfunctioned on its last four flights including the Lion Air flight and that on its penultimate flight from Denpasar to Jakarta, the plane suddenly dived, but the crew managed to control the aircraft.
The CVR was found in January 2019, and in October 2019 (seven months after the Ethiopian Airlines crash), the NTSC released its final report, listing a series of failures that contributed towards the crash.
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According to BBC News, the report cited that the jet should have been grounded before taking flight because of an earlier cockpit issue, while a crucial sensor had not been properly tested and the plane's Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System had a number of problems, which pushed the plane's nose down.
The report added that the first officer had struggled to run through a list of procedures and that the captain had not properly briefed him before handing over the controls, while 31 pages were missing from the plane's maintenance log.
The same month, the Federal Aviation Administration revoked the repair certification of Xtra Aerospace LLC, a Florida-based company which fixed a sensor thought to have contributed to the crash, according to Reuters, while a month later, the FAA issued an emergency Airworthiness Directive ordering amended operating limitations and procedures about the sensor be added to the 737 MAX's aircraft manual.
After the investigation report was published, then-Boeing President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg responded by saying the company was "addressing the [NTSC's] safety recommendations and taking actions to enhance the safety of 737 MAX to prevent the flight control conditions that occurred in this accident from ever happening again".
However, Bloomberg (via Fortune) reported in January 2020 that Boeing had mocked Lion Air in internal messages for asking for their pilots to be put through simulator training before flying the 737 Max.
What happened to Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302?
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 was a plane from Ethiopia to Kenya that crashed near the town of Bishoftu six minutes after taking off. It was the second MAX 8 accident in less than five months and all 157 people aboard were killed.
With many passengers flying to the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, a number of people associated with the United Nations were among the fatalities, as well as Italian archeologist Sebastiano Tusa and Nigerian-Canadian academic Pius Adesanmi.
After the crash, the US Federal Aviation Administration grounded all Boeing 737 MAX models.
The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority launched an investigation into the incident after recovering the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder on 11th March. While the final report has still not been published, the authority released an interim report, which found that the plane had issues with its Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), a flight stabilising programme which was reliant on the angle of attack sensors. Pilots on the Lion Air flight also struggled with the MCAS system, which pointed the plane downwards due to a faulty sensor, as pointed out by Insider.
Following the interim report, Ethiopian Airlines released a statement, saying that the MCAS was "to the best of our knowledge" active when the aircraft crashed. Boeing's then-CEO Dennis Muilenburg said on 29th April that while the crashes were linked by erroneous angle-of-attack data and that it's the company's "responsibility to eliminate that risk", he went on to put some blame on the pilots.
"If [an MCAS fails], you go through the checklist...it calls out actions that would be taken around power management and pitch management of the airplane," he said according to Inc. "It also refers to the cutout switches, that after an activation that was not pilot-induced, that you would hit the cutout switches. And, in some cases, those procedures were not completely followed."
What are the cases against Boeing?
Lion Air Flight 610
In December 2018, the family of the first officer filed a lawsuit claiming negligence against Boeing, saying that the aircraft's sensors provided inaccurate flight data and that the company did not provide proper instructions to pilots.
The family of the plane's co-pilot also sued Boeing for wrongful death in December 2018, alleging that the plane was "unreasonably dangerous because its sensors provided inconsistent information to both the pilots and the aircraft," according to Reuters.
More families sued the company, with two lawsuits filed in March 2019. Over 30 relatives of those who died sued Boeing in Chicago, according to The Washington Post.
In September 2019, CNBC reported that Boeing had settled lawsuits brought by the families of victims from the Lion Air flight, with each of the families receiving at least $1.2 million.
In December 2020, a federal judge in Chicago froze assets of Tom Girardi – the estranged lawyer husband of Real Housewives star Erika Girardi – after he was accused of misappropriating $2 million in client funds due to families of those killed in the Boeing crash, and he is currently facing a lawsuit.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302
In November last year, BBC News reported that Boeing had reached an agreement with the families of those who died in the Ethiopian 737 Max crash, with the plane maker accepting liability for their deaths in return for the families declining to seek punitive damages from the company. As a result, Boeing shares fell by one percent to $218.50.
That same month, Boeing directors agreed with shareholders to settle a lawsuit over the board's safety oversight for $237.5 million, while Reuters reported that the two crashes had cost Boeing $20 billion and that Boeing had agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement with the US Department of Justice which included $2.5 billion in fines and compensation.