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- 24-year-old Samya Stumo was one of 157 killed when a Boeing 737 Max flown by Ethiopian Airlines crashed in March — the second fatal crash involving the new plane within five months.
- After FAA officials testified in front of a Senate committee, Stumo’s mother and younger brother drove to Washington, DC, to protest alleged failures on the part of both the agency and Boeing that led to flaws in the plane’s design.
- Business Insider spoke with them following the protest — during which security removed them from the FAA grounds.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Samya Stumo was 24 years old, starting her "dream job" at a Washington, DC-based NGO and heading to Nairobi, and then onward to Uganda for work when the Boeing 737 Max she was flying from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, plunged into the ground six minutes after taking off.
Stumo was among the 157 killed on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 in March when the Boeing 737 Max crashed due to a flaw in the plane’s design, the second of two similar crashes. The first, Lion Air Flight 610, crashed in Indonesia in October, 2018, killing 189.
Now, Stumo’s family is demanding accountability.
They’re among the dozens of victims’ families that have filed suits against Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), alleging that faulty designs and lax oversight led to both fatal crashes. In particular, families of victims from the second crash have stated that they believe, based on what was known at the time, that the aircraft should have been grounded following the first crash.
The more that Stumo’s family learns, the more incensed they get.
On Thursday, Stumo’s mother, Nadia Milleron, and her brother Tor Stumo, held a demonstration in front of the FAA’s main offices in Washington, DC, in response to Senate testimony given by several FAA officials a day earlier — particularly Associate Administrator of Aviation Safety Ali Bahrami.
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On Wednesday, Bahrami defended the FAA’s system of giving plane makers like Boeing broad oversight of their own work, rather than the agency inspecting and certifying certain designs itself.
However, Bahrami also admitted that the FAA had misjudged the risk of a second crash coming so soon after the first one, the Lion Air Flight 610 crash in October 2018 that killed 189 people.
After the Lion Air crash, the FAA issued a flight-directive that warned 737 Max pilots about how to respond in the event of an automated system, Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, activated erroneously, which preliminary reports indicated was the cause of the crash.
The FAA also allowed Boeing to begin working on a software fix to prevent the problem from occurring, but kept this confidential.
"The implication was that this pilot change would be sufficient to provide airworthiness; there was no real mention of improvements and necessary changes to the MCAS system, leading I think most people to conclude that there was no long-term issue with the MCAS," Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) said to Bahrami at the hearing. "That lack of transparency I think is not appropriate."
The confidential work on the long-term fix — and the assessment that it would be necessary — were revealed in a Wall Street Journal report this week. Bahrami claimed that an agreement between the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board required the agency to keep certain information confidential as the investigation proceeded.
"We do not disclose information or any indication what may have gone wrong in that particular case, and that is a very delicate balance for us to play," Bahrami said. "We wanted to basically resolve the issue without having to disclose information that investigators did not want us to disclose. From the safety perspective, we felt strongly that what we did was adequate."
After learning of The Wall Street Journal report and Bahrami’s testimony, Milleron and Tor Stumo — Samya’s mother and brother — decided to drive from their home in Sheffield, Massachusetts, to protest in front of the FAA’s offices.
"After the Lion Air crash, they knew that there was a risk for another crash to occur," Tor Stumo told Business Insider in a phone call from the demonstration. "They took interim measures."
"You have pilots given a stopgap measure for something already deemed an ‘unacceptable risk.’" said Stumo. He said that the stopgap measure was inadequate, and that the plane should have been grounded.
While information released publicly after the first crash implied that pilot error, coupled with lack of awareness of MCAS could have been the cause, the second crash revealed that even though the Ethiopian Airlines pilots were aware of MCAS and tried to turn it off, they were unable to regain control of the plane.
"They turned off MCAS but couldn’t control their trim, so they had to turn it back on," said Stumo. "There was no way they could have survived."
During the protests, Milleron and Stumo demanded Bahrami’s resignation.
"These things can’t go unanswered," said Stumo. "He didn’t even mention the deaths; he’s just talking about how the FAA has always done this."
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During the protest, security officers escorted Milleron and Stumo off of the FAA’s premises — and then arranged a meeting with Bahrami.
"We’re going to ask why the FAA made the missteps they did, what they’ll do better in the future, and then we’re going to ask him to resign," said Stumo. "I’m going to tell him so."
"I hope anyone complicit in this bungled certification of this airplane resigns, and I hope that, if they did something criminal, they go to jail. It’s not fair that she’s dead," Stumo said of his sister.
Ultimately, Samya Stumo’s family hopes they can find justice, and peace, but more importantly, that the failures that led to the two 737 Max crashes are never repeated.
"We don’t want to be here. We want to be at home. We want to be crying and holding each other. But we can’t stand by. We have to come here, and make sure that there can never be a third crash."
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