Boeing’s potential guilty plea deal over 737 Max crashes angers Indonesian families

Tria Dianti
Boeing’s potential guilty plea deal over 737 Max crashes angers Indonesian families Families and colleagues of passengers and crew of Lion Air flight JT610, which crashed Oct. 29, 2018, cry on the deck of Indonesia Navy ship KRI Banjarmasin as they visit the site where the plane went down, along the north coast of Karawang in Indonesia, Nov. 6, 2018.

UPDATED at 6:20 a.m. ET on 2024-07-11

Indonesian families of the 189 victims of a LionAir 737 Max flight that crashed in 2018 are angry that Boeing, the plane’s manufacturer, could evade a criminal trial and accountability for this and another air disaster involving the same model.

Only months after the Indonesian airliner crashed into the Java Sea, an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max also crashed minutes after take-off during a flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, killing all 157 people on board. 

The Boeing Co. had entered a plea deal with U.S. prosecutors, which would allow it to plead guilty to fraud and pay another fine, if such an agreement were accepted by a district judge in the coming weeks, the Associated Press news agency and National Public Radio in the U.S. reported.

Under the deal, Boeing, a key American government defense contractor, is expected to plead guilty to criminal fraud during the certification process for the 737 MAX planes in 2017, before the two crashes. Boeing would also pay a fine of U.S. $243.6 million and agree to invest at least $455 million in safety programs, the U.S. Justice Department said in a Sunday court filing.

Anton Suhadi, a spokesperson for the Indonesian victims’ families, said that if Boeing were allowed to get away without further consequences, it would send a dangerous message that corporate malfeasance can be resolved with financial penalties alone.

“I feel this is very unfair if that’s the only sanction for Boeing,” Anton told BenarNews. 

“This is a serious crime that resulted in the deaths of 189 victims,” he said referring to the crash off the Indonesian coast.

On Wednesday, Indonesia’s Ministry of Transportation said it would strengthen its oversight, in light of Boeing’s admission, to ensure aircraft are safe.

“The Ministry of Transportation urges Boeing to immediately restore public trust,” it said in a statement. 

“This is essential considering Boeing has faced a crisis of confidence regarding its safety record since the two accidents involving the 737 Max aircraft.”

Lion Air flight 610, a Boeing 737 Max 8, took off from Jakarta for the mining region of Pangkal al Pinang on Oct. 29, 2018. Minutes after takeoff, the pilot asked to return to the airport and then the plane lost radio contact with the control tower.

About 11 minutes after takeoff the plane carrying six crew members, 178 adult passengers, one child and two infants plunged into the Java Sea. All aboard, most of them Indonesian, were killed.

Indonesia experienced a boom in low-cost carriers after the aviation industry was deregulated in the early 2000s. This rapid expansion led to concerns about safety oversight and pilot training, contributing to the country’s poor aviation safety record back then.

In 2007, the European Union had banned all Indonesian airlines from its airspace following a series of deadly accidents. Although some carriers, including flag carrier Garuda, were removed from the list in 2009 after demonstrating improvements, the ban was not fully lifted until 2018.

Debris and other articles recovered from the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 are laid out at a search and rescue operations center in a northern Jakarta port, Oct. 30, 2018. [Adek Berry/AFP]

Barely five months after the Lion Air crash, another Boeing 737 Max 8 plane, run by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed six minutes after it took off from Addis Ababa on March 10, 2019. All 149 passengers and eight crew members on board were killed.

Both crashes, investigators determined, were linked to a faulty flight control system known as MCAS, and other factors. MCAS repeatedly pushed the aircrafts’ noses down, causing the pilots to lose control of the plane, investigators said.

A year after the Lion Air crash, Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee concluded that a design flaw and lack of pilot guidance on the 737 Max 8 flight system feature were contributing factors to the disaster. The main issue was the MCAS, which malfunctioned, the committee said.

The pilots of the Ethiopian Airlines flight were apparently aware of the MCAS issue but were not able to control the aircraft. Following that crash, authorities worldwide grounded what had become Boeing’s bestselling jet.

According to a U.S Justice Department statement from 2021, Boeing admitted in court documents that it deceived the country’s federal aviation evaluators about MCAS issues. That deception led 737 MAX airplane manuals, even for U.S. airlines, to not contain information about MCAS.

The crashes and subsequent grounding of the 737 Max fleet raised serious concerns about corporate accountability, regulatory oversight and the prioritization of profit over safety.

‘Face the consequences’

Vivian Hasna, 23, was a passenger who perished on the Lion Air flight. 

Her mother Neuis questioned why Boeing did not pull the aircraft from service immediately upon discovering the flaws, rather than waiting for another tragedy – the Ethiopian crash – to occur. 

“I am a mother who lost her child. It’s very sad, especially since I can’t visit my child’s grave, I can’t pay my respects because her body was never found,” she told BenarNews.

“Those at fault should face the consequences, according to the law.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report referred to the Boeing Co. as an airline.


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