By Jason Neely and Duncan Miriri
ADDISABABA, Ethiopia/NAKURU, Kenya (Reuters) – Mourning families of Ethiopian Airlines passengers who died in last month’s crash are asking awkward and angry questions of U.S. planemaker Boeing after closely following a preliminary report into the disaster.
Though Ethiopian investigators’ remit was not to find blame, they implicitly pointed at Boeing by recommending it fix a faulty system and saying pilots followed pre-established procedures, before the 737 MAX crashed killing all 157 on board.
Konjit Shafi, who lost her 31-year-old brother Sintayehu, listened to the Ethiopian transport minister’s press conference live on Thursday and wondered why lessons were not learned from a similar MAX disaster in Indonesia last October.
“Boeing – they knew the problem already,” she said, referring to an automatic anti-stall system in the MAX model that tipped the jets down in both cases due to faulty sensors.
“If they could have announced the problem to the airlines first, the accident may not have happened,” she told Reuters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Boeing has expressed condolences and promised a software fix. It will also have awkward questions of its own – over whether the Ethiopian crew correctly followed guidance not to restore power to the anti-stall system following sensor damage, and why the plane was also at unusually high thrust.
For Konjit, the report’s release on Thursday brought back her last words with her brother, who called after takeoff to say hello as the family lived in the flight path.
“He asked me to go outside and see the plane because he was just above our home,” she said, sitting in a dimly lit front room in front of a portrait from Sintayehu’s university graduation and a row of burned candles.
“I called him again and asked how the network was working and he answered ‘I don’t know, it’s just working until now’ and then ‘good bye’. I think it’s at that time that the accident happened.”
Flight 302 had taken off late, at 8:38 a.m., and contact was lost six minutes later. It crashed into a dusty plain under still blue skies with such force that much of the wreckage was buried in the dry earth.
Among those on board were three generations of one Kenyan family – grandmother Anne Wangui Karanja, her daughter and her three young grandchildren.
In the back yard of the family home in the central Kenyan town of Nakuru, bunches of white roses were wilting on a newly-built stone memorial, emblazoned with photos, dates of birth and words of remembrance.
“From the report, we gather that the manufacturer is the problem,” said Quindos Karanja, who lost his mother, sister, nieces and nephew. “My anger comes in because they (Boeing) were putting profits before lives.”
The family read the crash report online as soon as it was published, and have followed news coverage with the aid of a stream of lawyers arriving at their home.
“It is good that the CEO of Boeing came out and owned up, but all we want, before these planes go back into the skies, is that they make sure everything is taken care of,” Karanja said.
“We don’t want to have such a tragedy because it is very painful,” he said.
Boeing has not admitted liability, but its boss Dennis Muilenburg said on Thursday the company was working to eliminate the risk of “erroneous activation” of the so-called MCAS anti-stall system via a software update and pilot training.
The 737 MAX fleet has been grounded worldwide as a precaution. If culpability is found, it could open the world’s biggest planemaker to a slew of lawsuits.
Relatives of an American woman killed in the crash, Samya Stumo, filed the first lawsuit on behalf of a U.S. victim in Chicago. The complaint targeted Boeing and Rosemount Aerospace Inc, the manufacturer of the sensor at the heart of the inquiry.
Stumo is the niece of consumer activist Ralph Nader, who has called for a boycott of the 737 MAX.
“We as passengers need to demand that planes be safe so that noone else dies,” said her mother Nadia Milleron.
“Profits should not come before safety, and we are making this effort here to help prevent a third crash.”
(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)