Irwin Mitchell is acting in what is believed to be the first case brought by the family of a British passenger killed in the Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX crash.
The family of UN worker Joanna Toole, 36, has begun legal action in the US against Boeing and Rosemount Aerospace, the manufacturer of the aircraft’s ‘angle of attack’ sensors.
Ms Toole was one of seven British passengers on board Flight ET302 when it crashed on 10 March, shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing all 157 passengers and crew.
Clive Garner, a partner and head of the aviation law team at Irwin Mitchell representing Joanna’s family, said he anticipated filing claims in the US courts on behalf of more clients shortly.
He said: “While the official accident investigation continues, the exact cause or causes of the Ethiopian Airlines disaster remains unknown.
“Despite this, sufficient evidence is now available to enable proceedings to be commenced against both Boeing and Rosemount Aerospace.”
He said the proceedings involved allegations of a catalogue of serious failures by Boeing, including the decision to fit new, larger engines to the existing 737 airframe.
“These engines altered the aircraft’s handling characteristics and, in particular, caused the nose of the aircraft to pitch upwards in the period following take-off, increasing the risk of an engine stall. To reduce this risk Boeing introduced a new software system called MCAS which automatically pitched the nose of the aircraft downwards when the angle of attack sensors fitted to the aircraft signalled that the angle of the aircraft was too steep.
“However, it is also alleged that the MCAS software was faulty and it is now being re-designed. Further, pilots of the new MAX 8 aircraft were not made sufficiently aware of the operation of the new software and were not adequately trained to deal with a situation like the one that arose on flight ET302.”
Mr Garner said this was compounded by the decision not to fit the “angle of attack disagree light” to the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft, even though it was standard in previous 737 aircraft. This could have alerted the pilots to the problem.
The disagree light was only made available by Boeing on the 737 MAX 8 as an optional extra, he said.
“Rosemount Aerospace is also a defendant in the proceedings. Rosemount manufactured the aircraft’s angle of attack sensors, at least one of which appears to have been faulty.
“The sensor sent inaccurate information to the MCAS system which repeatedly pitched the nose of the aircraft downwards, over-ruling the actions of the pilots who repeatedly tried to gain altitude to avoid the aircraft hitting the ground.”
The entire fleet of MAX 8 aircraft is still grounded world-wide pending remedial work to satisfy the Federal Aviation Authority and other regulators.
In a recent interview, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg refused to accept that the design of the MCAS system was flawed, stating instead that Boeing “followed exactly the steps in our design and certification processes that consistently produce safe airplanes”.
Boeing has, however, acknowledged that improvements to the MCAS software have been made and are to be installed.
Boeing has also stated that the absence of the disagree light “did not adversely impact airplane safety or operation”, but since confirmed that it would be fitted to all 737 MAX aircraft as a standalone feature before they return to service.
Ms Toole’s father, Adrian, said: “Joanna was a wonderfully warm and inspirational person who dedicated her life to the welfare of animals.
“The last few months trying to accept her death in such sudden and unexpected circumstances have been incredibly difficult…
“Nothing can ever bring Joanna back but we hope that by continuing to push for answers about what went wrong, justice will be done and flight safety improved for others in the future”