It was completely silent as a man whose family died in the Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crash testified before Congress on Wednesday and ripped the airplane maker and encouraged lawmakers to scrutinize the Federal Aviation Administration.
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Paul Njoroge lost his wife, three young children and mother-in-law in the crash that killed all 157 onboard shortly after it took off last March near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The crash followed a similar accident in which a Lion Air Max jet crashed off the coast of Indonesia killing 189 people in October 2018. He is the first relative of any of the 346 passengers to speak out on the deadly Boeing crashes.
“Today, I speak not only with my voice but the voices of my departed family, my mom-in-law, and the other 341 victims,” he told the committee while holding up a huge poster of his family.
Njoroge said his wife Carol was a dedicated homemaker and a full-time accountant who wanted to “change the world” through education. His son Ryan, 6, was “super intelligent” and “fascinated with the galaxy and aspired to be an astronaut.” Kelly, 9, was a singer, and “delighted” everyone. And his youngest, Ruby, only 9 months old was “bubbly and a joy.” His mother-in-law was a retired teacher who worked 40 years as an educator.
And every minute that passes by, Njoroge is haunted by the horror of what may have happened in the last few minutes of their lives.
“I think about the last six minutes a lot,” he said. "My wife and my mom-in-law knew they were going to die. They had to somehow comfort the children during those final moments knowing they were all their last. I wish I was there with them. It never leaves me but my family's flesh is there in Ethiopia mixed with the soil, reject, fear and pieces of the aircraft.”
On April 3, three weeks after the deaths of Njoroge’s family members, in what he described as a “shameful pattern of behaviors by Boeing and airplane manufacturers,” Boeing shifted the focus from the root cause of the crashes, which he believes to be design flaws in the Max. Njoroge accused Boeing of moving the blame on “foreign pilots” after the Lion Air flight and demanded that the FAA provide a “recertification” and “full legislative fix” for the aviation safety system.
“The term 'foreign pilot error' is utter prejudice and a disrespect to pilots and Boeing customers across the world. Boeing used this fallacy of foreign pilot error to avoid the grounding of the 737 Max after the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 on Oct. 29 last year. That decision killed my family and 152 others in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 four months later. The FAA should have known that the failure to have triple redundancy in critical safety systems could cause crashes and death -- they recklessly left Boeing to police itself,” he said.
Njoroge also claimed that Boeing put profits before safety.
“Boeing should not be allowed to act like a mere investment company extracting wealth to supercharge shareholder returns at the expense of safety and quality. Their leadership should change in favor of engineering safety focus other -- safety-critical industries have early warning system data collection with immediate responsiveness,” he said, adding that “if Boeing's wrongful conduct continues, another plane will dive to the ground. Killing me you or your children ... or all of the other members of your family. It is you who must be the leaders ... in this fight for aviation safety in the world.”