United by grief, families of Boeing crash victims demand justice

United by grief, families of Boeing crash victims demand justice

Catherine Berthet (L) and Naoise Ryan (R) join relatives of people killed in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 Boeing 737 MAX crash at a press conference in Washington, DC, April 24, 2024
Catherine Berthet (L) and Naoise Ryan (R) join relatives of people killed in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 Boeing 737 MAX crash at a press conference in Washington, DC, April 24, 2024. Photo: SAUL LOEB / AFP
Source: AFP

They can't bring back their children, siblings or partners, but five years on, the families of the 2019 Boeing crash victims want to ensure a similar tragedy never happens again.

"We've got French people, Canadians, Americans, Irish, British, we're all there together and we're fighting for something together," Naoise Ryan, holding a photo of her late husband Mick, told reporters on Wednesday.

The Irishman was one of 157 killed when a Boeing 737 MAX operated by Ethiopian Airlines plunged into the ground minutes after take-off on March 10, 2019.

Ryan is among hundreds of family members calling for the US Justice Department to prosecute Boeing, along with relatives of the victims of another Boeing 737 MAX crash five months earlier, in which 189 people died on a Lion Air flight in Indonesia.

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"I can tell you, it's hell," Ryan said of losing her husband.

A hell she relives after each new meeting, such as the one held with justice officials this week, aimed at holding Boeing accountable -- with little sign of progress.

"Coming here every time and meeting with this Department of Justice, it is traumatic," she told AFP -- adding, though, that it was "very important to be present."

For Catherine Berthet, who lost her daughter Camille, 28, in the Ethiopia crash, being with fellow relatives of victims is a "blessing."

"We are very close but we never speak of what happened," Berthet said, her hands trembling.

The 56-year-old from France carried a photo of Camille smiling next to her little brother, miraculously found among the wreckage of the plane, along with a black dress she was given for her birthday.

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'Die in vain'

The missing emergency door of Alaska Airlines N704AL, which made an emergency landing at Portland International Airport is covered and taped, in Portland, Oregon on January 23, 2024
The missing emergency door of Alaska Airlines N704AL, which made an emergency landing at Portland International Airport is covered and taped, in Portland, Oregon on January 23, 2024. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon / AFP
Source: AFP

The families' push for justice comes as Boeing faces wider scrutiny after a series of errors, including when a door plug fell out of the fuselage of a Boeing 737 MAX operated by Alaska Airlines in January, leaving a gaping hole in the cabin.

The US Justice Department has a July deadline to determine whether Boeing has violated a deferred-prosecution agreement put in place after the 2018 and 2019 crashes.

The American aviation giant could face criminal charges if so.

Ike Riffel, who lost his two children in the crash, said he is hopeful that the group of family members can get justice for the victims.

"They are going get to the bottom of this and they're a great group of people," Riffel said.

He added that he was "after the people in Boeing" rather than the company itself, adding, "Until these people are weeded out and dealt with, I don't see Boeing changing."

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"We'll never get our sons back. But our fight now is for justice, justice for our sons and justice for the 346 other people that were on that airplane," Riffel said, referring to those who died in the Boeing crashes in both Ethiopia and Indonesia.

Riffel says he wants to see Boeing on trial in the hope it will bring some comfort and closure to him and other family members.

Nadia Milleron, who lost her 24-year-old daughter Samya, is now running for a seat in the US Congress and said she wanted to "prevent other deaths ... so that perhaps she didn't die in vain."

"I think about it many times a day, my daughter's presence, her spirit, her happiness," Milleron said, adding that a cherry tree planted in Samya's memory was now blooming.

"It's just lovely," Milleron said, her eyes filling with tears.

Source: AFP

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