Samya Rose Stumo should still be alive.
She perished because, in March 2019, she boarded a Boeing 737 Max in Addis Ababa that should never have been in the sky. It was in the sky because Boeing officials knew their lucrative new aircraft was unsafe and lied about it. They lied about it because they put profits above lives, including hers.
Five months earlier, another 737 Max crashed into the ocean off the coast of Jakarta. Publicly, Boeing blamed the pilots, but company officials knew better. Documents made public long after the crash showed Boeing knew that the new aircraft they had rushed onto the market had a new cockpit alert system that could malfunction if a single sensor failed, pitching the plane downward, and making it all but impossible to stop it from nose-diving.
After that first crash, Boeing should have leveled with the FAA and grounded every single 737 Max on the planet until it could get a handle on this catastrophic safety issue. Instead, a company press release said the airplane was “as safe as any airplane that has ever flown the skies.” They kept flying.
Boeing lied to protect its profits. And 346 people were sacrificed on the altar of shareholder returns.
Samya Rose, 24, was one of them. Her life was as spectacular as it was brief.
“She was just a thousand-watt personality all the way,” said her father, Michael Stumo, speaking from the farm in Sheffield, in the Berkshires, where Samya Rose and two brothers grew up. “She had this joy and light.”
She was reading before kindergarten, raising her own pigs at age 7, driving a tractor at 9. She finished high school early, then college. Fieldwork in a public health program in Peru led to her life’s mission. She studied international public health in Copenhagen and Tanzania. When she boarded that Ethiopian Airlines flight, she was working to set up health projects in East Africa.
No one was surprised at that. Samya Rose was always headed into public service, having been raised in a family that was all about it, in frequent and spirited conversations about politics and justice and how to make a difference.
Her great uncle is Ralph Nader, the former presidential candidate and the country’s most prominent crusader for transportation safety: He has devoted his life to preventing exactly the kind of corporate failures that killed his beloved niece.
Samya’s parents now devote their lives to making sure other families don’t have to suffer like theirs. And that means telling anyone who will listen about their daughter — and Boeing’s lies. Together with other families from around the world they have shown up at investigators’ offices, courtrooms, and congressional hearings to keep up the pressure for answers on the 737 Max. They’ve become experts on aircraft design, company culture, and the federal bureaucracy that is meant to serve people like them.
“We’re trying to prevent a third crash,” Michael Stumo said.
They have been vindicated by legislators who forced Boeing to reveal documents and e-mails showing the manufacturer had withheld information from regulators and the public. They’ve also been frustrated that some in Washington still appear willing to give the company a pass.
Most enraging was the sweetheart deal struck between the Justice Department and Boeing in the last days of the Trump administration. Under it, Boeing agreed to pay fines and compensation to airlines and the families of crash victims totaling more than $2.5 billion. In return, the company was allowed to avoid criminal fraud charges for misleading the FAA.
“The misleading statements, half-truths, and omissions communicated by Boeing employees to the FAA impeded the government’s ability to ensure the safety of the flying public,” said US Attorney Erin Nealy Cox for the Northern District of Texas. She said the agreement sent a clear message that Boeing was being held accountable.
But victims’ families say the agreement, which blindsided them, does anything but.
“They gave the executives immunity,” said Nadia Milleron, Samya’s mother. “The only way to make change is to make the executives personally accountable.”
And so the families are trying to have that part of the agreement torn up, citing a federal law mandating that victims be consulted whenever the Department of Justice reaches a prosecution deal. So far, that department, under Biden appointee Merrick Garland, is fighting them.
And losing. Last fall, Federal Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the Justice Department had erred in failing to consult the families before it made the deal with Boeing. On Jan. 26, company executives appeared in a Texas courtroom to answer charges of criminal conspiracy. They pleaded not guilty.
“We are deeply sorry to all who lost loved ones on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Flight 302, and greatly respect those who expressed their views at the hearing last week,” a Boeing spokesman e-mailed on Friday. “We have made broad and deep changes across our company, and made changes to the design of the 737 Max to ensure that accidents like these never happen again.”
Paul Cassell , who is representing the families, asked that the court appoint an independent monitor to make sure Boeing has truly cleaned up its act. The victims have also asked the judge to rescind Boeing’s immunity, so that those responsible for withholding vital information about the 737 Max might be held criminally responsible for all of the suffering they caused.
“There has been such a strong stench surrounding this agreement,” Cassell said. “The only way this deal could have been finalized is in the dark of night.”
For the sake of those lost, and those who loved them, it is time for some bright, life-saving sunshine.