Parents whose children died in the 737 Max crashes are haunted by the plane’s imminent return

Posted on November 30, 2020
Samya Stumo and Danielle Moore. Both women were killed in the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crash in March 2019. Clifford Law/Chris Moore
Samya Stumo and Danielle Moore. Both women were killed in the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crash in March 2019. Clifford Law/Chris Moore

Sinéad Baker, Business Insider.

Parents whose children were killed in crashes involving Boeing’s 737 Max plane say they are angry and upset by the plane’s imminent return to the skies, and can’t believe that the jet is safe.

Boeing’s plane had been grounded around the world since March 2019, after the second of two 737 aircrafts crashed, with a combined death toll of 346.

Boeing was left facing lawsuits from families, shareholders, and airlines — plunging it into the biggest crisis in its history and leaving planes sitting idle around the world.

The US Federal Aviation Administration announced on Wednesday — 20 months after the plane was grounded — that the 737 Max is allowed to fly again following upgrades and fixes, after a far longer process than Boeing expected.

The plane’s return is good news for the company, but reopens wounds for those who lost loved ones in the crashes.

Business Insider spoke to two parents who lost their daughters in the second crash, over Ethiopia. They believe the plane is not safe enough to return — despite approval from regulators like the FAA — and find celebration over its return deeply painful.

At time of writing, neither Boeing nor the FAA have responded to Business Insider’s request for comment on both parents’ remarks.

‘This is the plane that killed my daughter’

Chris Moore lost his 24-year-old daughter Danielle in the second 737 Max crash, when an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed shortly after takeoff in Addis Ababa in March 2019, killing all 157 people on board.

The first crash, by a Lion Air plane in Indonesia, took place in October 2018 and killed 189 people.

Danielle Moore was travelling to the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, where she had been chosen to represent Canada.

Chris Moore, from Toronto, told Business Insider that for his family, the crash has “ripped us apart.”

“I’ve always said that I will never be the same ever again. It’s like I’ve been taken off my path and been transported somewhere else. It doesn’t feel good.”

“I’m trying to get back to the path we were on before, but without Danielle, it’s very difficult,” he said.

“We can only head towards that. We can’t get there. It’s a very painful.”

He said his daughter’s death has been “traumatic” for the family.

“We’re still suffering the loss of our daughter Danielle. So it has affected us, our friends, the communities which she served.”

Thoughts of what happened still bring “anxiety attacks in the middle of the night,” he said.

Chris Moore added that seeing Boeing’s stock price climb is a painful experience: “This is the plane that killed my daughter.”

“But there’s a lot of these stockholders who are chomping at the bit to get this cleaned up so they can make more money.”

‘Absolute agony’

Nadia Milleron lost her 24-year-old daughter Samya Stumo in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. Samya was travelling as part of her work with a healthcare nonprofit.

Milleron said that her family is in “absolute agony” at the plane’s return.

Samya Stumo. Clifford Law

“I know this is nothing to do with her. This thing that happened, how she died, it has nothing to do with her personality, but it’s entirely consuming,” Milleron said.

“So the idea that anybody else would suffer like this, lose their daughter, lose their family member, I can’t exist with that.”

Since the crash, Milleron and her husband, Michael Stumo, have dedicated themselves to campaigning to prevent another disaster, including meeting with regulators in the US.

She previously told Business Insider that she wanted to stay in bed and grieve, but knew that she couldn’t because “if there was a third crash, I would never forgive myself.”

She said this week:  “I have to keep on fighting even though I don’t want to, because there’s a lot of things that I want to celebrate about Samya.”

“And I want to put in place some fellowship in her name and encourage other young women to go into her field, into public health, global public health, and work in Africa and in other places to make good public-health systems.

But Milleron said she can’t do that until she feels issues with the 737 Max have been properly addressed. “I am consumed with this. I cannot celebrate my daughter,” she said.

Milleron said she wants to encourage passengers to voluntarily avoid flying on the Max, with the hope of changing Boeing’s approach by denying airlines revenue.

“The only way that we can make an aviation safety change is by passengers refusing to spend money on tickets for the 737 Max. That’s the only thing that people are going to listen to. So that’s what I’m going to be devoted to,” she said.

They think the plane still isn’t safe

The investigations into both crashes found that an electronic system malfunctioned, pushing the nose of the plane down repeatedly and ultimately sending both aircrafts into a fatal nosedive.

The software — known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System — was introduced to align the 737 Max with the traditional flying style of older 737s. The Max had new engines, which were more efficient but also heavier, which changed the distribution of weight on the plane.

The MCAS was meant to counteract that but in both cases, they activated unnecessarily, and forced the plane’s nose downward in a way that the pilots could not override.

Installing that MCAS allowed Boeing to get the Max certified for flight without as many regulatory steps, and with less training for pilots.

The recertified plane is still the basic Max structure, but will now use the data from more sensors before changing the angle of the plane. New pilot training will also be required.

Boeing and the FAA say the same fault cannot recur, and regulators are happy enough with the changes that the Max is allowed to fly again.

But those who lost family members to Boeing’s crashes say the Max should have been abandoned, and that Boeing should have had to design a new plane from scratch.

Moore said: “It should be scrapped right now. They should start from a blank slate.”

“If they want to use the ideas from the Max, then fine. But do it as a new type. Don’t use it as an amended type.”

He added that the Max was the result of Boeing’s “trying to modify a plane that has been around for 50 years” in the first place.

Moore also noted other issues with the plane were uncovered during Boeing’s investigation, which added extra delays to the timeline of approval.

“It’s very telling of some of the problems that this plane has — the fact that it’s been 20 months that they’ve been looking, poring over everything, trying to get this right,” he said.

Milleron also said that she worries future passengers are “not being protected by the FAA. They’re not being protected by Boeing.”

‘No way to know what additional problems exist’

Steve Marks, an aviation lawyer with the Miami-based firm Podhurst Orseck, who represents victims from both crashes, told Business Insider that he fears other issues with the plane could still be present. His clients do not include Milleron and Moore.

Marks said: “There’s no way to know what additional problems exist by virtue of having moved the wings and forward heavier, bigger engines hanging on those wings that were not redesigned.”

“I’ve always been a proponent that this aircraft, in order to be safe and for the public to know it’s going to be safe, must be recertified from beginning to end, not just looking at the one system we know that failed,” he added.

Boeing has repeatedly expressed confidence in its own investigations and upgrades. It says that the upgraded Max will be one of the safest planes ever to fly.

But the parents also expressed fears that work being done to inspect the plane by the FAA would not be sufficient, given the close relationship between the agency and Boeing.

Boeing was able to oversee much of the plane’s certification itself — including the software linked to the crash — as part of a longstanding policy.

On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would reform how the FAA certifies planes in future.

Steve Dickson, the head of the FAA, said he is is “100% confident” in the safety of the Max. He told Reuters Wednesday: “We’ve done everything humanly possible to make sure these types of crashes do not happen again.”

He added that the changes to the plane “have eliminated what caused these particular accidents.”

But Milleron said that the plane was being allowed to fly again without what she views as the proper steps to ensure it is safe.

“We are seeing that despite the effort, so many people to analyze, to evaluate, to make sure, to focus on all of this,  they’re still going to unground the plane without taking care of business.”

Moore, meanwhile, called for an independent third party to certify the Max, describing Boeing and the FAA as “the groups who made these serious transgressions in developing, designing and certifying this plane.”

“Why should we trust them now?”