Boeing is being sued in Seattle on behalf of the families of some of the 189 people who died in the October crash of a Lion Air jet. The suit blames a new automated flight-control system on the 737 MAX and says Boeing failed to disclose information to pilots.
A Seattle personal-injury law firm sued Boeing Thursday on behalf of the families of 17 Indonesian passengers who died when a newly built 737 MAX flown by Lion Air crashed Oct. 29, killing all 189 people on board.
The complaint filed in King County Superior Court alleges that the crash was caused by the failure of a new flight-control system Boeing installed on the MAX.
It also alleges that Boeing failed to properly inform pilots about the existence of the new automated system, which was designed to push the jet’s nose down without pilot input if a sensor on the fuselage detected a high-speed stall condition.
The preliminary investigation into the crash by Indonesian authorities established that the single “angle of attack” sensor that activated the system was giving a false reading.
The malfunction initiated a 12-minute tug of war as the system — called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) — repeatedly forced the plane’s nose down and the pilots brought it back up again.
At the end of this wrestling match, the pilots lost control and the jet went into a steep dive, crashing into the Java Sea at approximately 500 miles per hour.
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In a news release, the Herrmann Law Group said, “Boeing did not include any mention of the new system in the Aircraft Flight Manual, which pilots rely upon. Further, the system activates automatically with no notice given to the pilot.”
The news release quotes officials with U.S. airline pilot unions who learned of MCAS only after the crash and in press reports expressed surprise and concern at the lack of information.
“The pilots were not given any instruction or warning on how to respond to (a malfunction of MCAS). They were not even aware of MCAS’ existence,” the lawsuit states. “Why the FAA approved flight manuals containing these omissions is baffling.”
The lawsuit also alleges that to boost MAX sales, Boeing “concealed the new system and minimized the differences between the MAX and other versions of the 737” so that airlines would save money by needing only minimal training for pilots transitioning from older 737 Next Generation models to the new MAX version.
The suit quotes a pitch on Boeing’s website to airlines already flying the older 737s, telling them that buying a fleet of MAXs would save “millions of dollars … because of the commonality with the Next-Generation 737.”
Former Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, one of three attorneys on the case, traveled to Indonesia with law-firm founder Charles Herrmann to meet with victims’ families earlier this year.
The Herrmann lawsuit argues that King County is the appropriate venue because Boeing Commercial Airplanes is headquartered in the region and the jet was built locally and delivered to Lion Air just 2½ months before the crash. Lindquist said Boeing will likely file a motion to have the case moved to federal court.
Several lawsuits against Boeing with similar charges were filed previously in Chicago.
Boeing declined comment on the lawsuit Thursday, but in a statement said the company “extends our heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the families and loved ones of those onboard Lion Air Flight 610.”
“As the investigation continues, Boeing is cooperating fully with the investigating authorities,” Boeing added.