Boeing 737 Max Crash Victim's Family Pushes To Keep The Planes From Flying The death of Samya Stumo in an Ethiopian Airlines crash stirred her parents to take action against regulators and Boeing. Victims' families want regulators to order a complete review of the 737 Max.
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Crash Victim's Family Pushes To Keep Boeing 737 Max From Flying Again Too Soon

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Crash Victim's Family Pushes To Keep Boeing 737 Max From Flying Again Too Soon

Crash Victim's Family Pushes To Keep Boeing 737 Max From Flying Again Too Soon

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Boeing says it hopes to have the 737 Max jet back in service by the end of this year. That model was involved in two crashes in the past 12 months, one off the coast of Indonesia, one in Ethiopia. Three hundred and forty-six people died. And regulators grounded the plane for an investigation. Now the families of the plane crash victims are trying to keep it grounded. NPR's Jim Zarroli has the story.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Michael Stumo wears an Orthodox Christian cross made in Ethiopia to remember his daughter Samya.

MICHAEL STUMO: She was light. She was beautiful. She was intellectual. She had great judgment. She was a leader. She was always bringing us together. She was always connecting, reaching out.

ZARROLI: Samya Stumo was 24. And she'd just taken a job at a development organization. She texted her family in Massachusetts to say she'd gotten on an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. That night, they learned the plane she was on had crashed.

STUMO: And we knew there was a crash. We didn't know there was no survivors. And so we decided, we have to get there. She might be injured in a field. We got in our car and started driving to JFK to find a plane. And on the way down at some point, we heard there were no survivors.

ZARROLI: The Stumos had lost another child to cancer years before. Samya's death left them numb with grief, Stumo says, struggling to cope with the fact that their family had become smaller. Then in April, they read that the plane could be back in the air by fall. And that stirred them into action.

STUMO: We're traumatized. We don't want to be doing this, but we want to avoid a third crash. If someone had been more active after the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, maybe this crash wouldn't have happened.

ZARROLI: The Stumos have joined dozens of families suing Boeing. These families have become a driving force in the effort to keep the plane from flying too soon. The families say the plane shouldn't fly until questions about its safety are answered. Lead attorney Robert Clifford points out that the 737 Max has been dramatically redesigned since it started flying 50 years ago.

ROBERT CLIFFORD: We're talking about Kitty Hawk versus going to the moon in terms of all the technologies and issues of flight safety. The 737 of today - it looks nothing like and is nothing like the 737 of old.

ZARROLI: The controversy over the plane has intensified lately. Messages released last week indicate that a top pilot at Boeing had warned two years before the crashes that the plane was difficult to control in flight simulation. The families want to complete recertification of the 737 Max. Recertification is a kind of soup-to-nuts examination of the plane's design. Such a move would be a financial disaster for Boeing. The 737 Max is Boeing's best-selling plane. And the longer it's grounded, the more market share Boeing loses. Peter Goelz is a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.

PETER GOELZ: It is a very expensive decision. And it adds hundreds of millions of dollars and years to the process. And so it's not a decision that's made lightly.

ZARROLI: For that reason, a complete recertification is considered unlikely. Aviation consultant Richard Aboulafia (ph) says it's also not clear it's necessary. The crashes occurred after a redesign of the plane's autopilot system. These changes could force the plane's nose down in rare situations, confusing the crew.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA: The mistakes are pretty clear. In other words, I don't see how this is at all a dangerous plane once those changes are made.

ZARROLI: For its part Boeing said in a statement that it continues to collaborate with regulators on the process they've laid out for certifying the plane's software and safely returning the 737 Max to service. Stumo says there needs to be accountability for what happened.

STUMO: They should have people that made the decisions that killed my daughter - they should no longer make those decisions both at FAA and Boeing. The people that made the decisions that ended up causing these crashes - they're still there.

ZARROLI: The families also want to see a memorial to the victims erected in the remote part of Ethiopia where the plane crashed. But the real memorial, they say, needs to be permanent changes in airline safety to make sure the 737 Max doesn't crash again. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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