Roughly four years after two separate plane crashes grounded all Boeing 737 Max aircraft, a federal judge has ordered the company to be arraigned on criminal charges impacting a $2.5 billion agreement with the Justice Department.
(Video: CBS News)
Tragedy struck in October 2018 when a flight system failure resulted in a commercial plane crash in Indonesia only for the same malfunction to bring down another aircraft in March 2019 in Ethiopia, amounting to the death of a combined 346 people. Both crashes were of Boeing’s 737 Max jets which were then grounded until 2020 as investigations were conducted.
The company’s effort to avoid prosecution for allegedly defrauding federal regulators who approved the model seemed to be undone Thursday when U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor ordered a representative to appear in his Fort Worth courtroom on Jan. 26 for Boeing to be arraigned on a felony charge.
According to CBS News, O’Connor had ruled last year that under federal law, those who died in the crashes were victims of a crime and the Justice Department had no right to enter into a settlement agreement with Boeing without first consulting their surviving relatives. As it happened, the company had agreed to pay $2.5 billion to avoid criminal prosecution.
Of those monies, a fund of $500 million was created to compensate families of the victims, $243.6 million was paid as a fine, and the majority remainder went to pay airlines that were forced to ground their 737 Max aircraft for two years.
Speaking with the outlet, Attorney Paul G. Cassell who represents some of the victims’ families said, “The families look forward to addressing the company responsible for their loved ones’ deaths at the hearing next week.”
Antoinette Lewis, whose brother Antoine died in the 2019 crash told CBS, “The plane should have been investigated to the point of stopping production, because they already knew what the issues was. They were just trying to not let it get out there yet.”
“I want my brother’s killers — and that’s basically how I see Boeing, knowing that they were putting bad planes up in the air — I want them to feel the brunt of what they did to all of the families — not just mine,” she added.
“We are pleased that the court has agreed with our request for an arraignment, and rejected arguments from Boeing and the U.S. Justice Department,” Cassell expressed.
CBS noted that a spokesman for Boeing said the company had no comment and “The Justice Department, which fought against re-opening the settlement, did not immediately comment.”
Congressional investigations of the crashes resulted in heavy criticism of both the aircraft manufacturer and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of which regulators were accused of colluding with Boeing. New rules on how to certify planes were established going forward. At the time, it was found that an automated flight-control system not disclosed to airlines or pilots obtained a faulty reading from a sensor on the fuselage forcing the nose of the plane down, resulting in the crashes.
That flight system was redesigned and the Max 737 was cleared by the FAA to resume flights in 2020.
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