STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A relative of a plane crash victim has had to relive the disaster. The man lost a brother in the crash of a Boeing 737 MAX airplane in Indonesia. Then, in recent weeks, another 737 crashed in Ethiopia, seizing the attention of the world. Now the Indonesian man is one of those who filed the lawsuit. NPR's Jim Zarroli spoke with him.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The grim news came early in the morning of October 29.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Rescuers are scouring an area of sea off the island of Java for the wreckage of an airliner that crashed with 189 people on board.
ZARROLI: A routine, short flight from Jakarta, Indonesia, to the city of Pangkal Pinang had crashed into the water. In Jakarta, a man named Fenliks (ph) learned about the crash when a friend texted him the news. And right away Fenliks - that's his full name - felt a wave of fear. His older brother was flying to Pangkal Pinang that morning.
FENLIKS: I didn't know at the time what is the flight number of my brother flight. But then I called my parents. I called my father and asked him.
ZARROLI: His father did a little research and came back with horrifying news. His brother had been on Lion Air Flight JT610, the same one that had disappeared into the sea.
FENLIKS: So I say, are you sure? Are you sure it's JT610? He says, yeah. Yeah, that's JT610. So - oh, my God, I think that something very, very bad happened.
ZARROLI: Fenliks spent the next few hours texting his brother. There was no reply. No one on the flight had survived. Lion Air JT610 had encountered trouble almost immediately after takeoff. What happened is now the subject of a massive investigation taking place on three continents. Attorney Austin Bartlett represents some of the victims' families.
AUSTIN BARTLETT: We now know from looking at flight data that basically the aircraft was, for lack of a better way of putting it, you know, porpoising (ph) or oscillating - you know, almost, you know, undulating in the air.
ZARROLI: Boeing had designed the plane to make it more fuel-efficient than the existing 737. That meant moving the engines forward, which changed the plane's center of gravity. To compensate for that, Boeing installed a computer system meant to stabilize the plane. But something went wrong, and the pilots spent their last few minutes struggling to keep the nose of the plane from dropping. Attorney Charles Herrmann has also sued on the families' behalf.
CHARLES HERRMANN: These pilots had no idea about it. It was like they were fighting a ghost, if you will, because they didn't know what was causing it.
ZARROLI: In the months since then, dozens of lawsuits have been filed against Boeing in U.S. courts. They maintain there was something defective in the plane. They've been filed by relatives of the plane's pilots, flight attendants and passengers. Among them is Fenliks, whose brother was on the plane. I asked Fenliks what he hopes to gain from going to court. He said his parents had struggled to put their kids through school. At 31, his only brother, Varian Utama (ph), was a building contractor. He had a side business as a distributor of Italian bicycles, which he loved. Now his parents are heartbroken.
FENLIKS: The thing is it's totally changed now. It's totally changed. Now they - it looks like their happiness is gone, something like that. And worry is coming.
ZARROLI: Fenliks says his brother left behind a widow and baby who have to be taken care of. They have refused a lump-sum payment from the airline. It would have prevented them from suing. Boeing didn't respond to requests for comment. In the past, the company has settled cases like this out of court. And the Ethiopia crash has only increased the pressure on the company. For Fenliks and his family, hearing about that crash meant going through the pain all over again.
FENLIKS: I hope that nobody going to experience this kind of thing, yeah. It's really hard. No, not easy - really, it's not easy.
ZARROLI: Jim Zarroli, NPR News.
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