Families of Boeing crash victims hold signs outside the U.S. Capitol

Families of Boeing crash victims hold signs outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on June 18, 2024 as Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun testifies during a Senate hearing.

(Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Outrage as Reports Suggest DOJ to Offer Boeing 'Sweetheart Deal' Over Fatal Crashes

"There is no accountability, no admission that Boeing's admitted crime caused the 346 deaths, and the families will most certainly object," said one lawyer for victims' relatives.

The families of 346 people who were killed on two Boeing 737 MAX airplanes in 2018 and 2019 were expected to "strenuously object" to a plea deal reportedly proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice a week after federal prosecutors recommended criminal charges for the company.

The penalties proposed by the DOJ "are totally inadequate," said Javier de Luis, whose sister was killed when the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX plane she was on crashed in 2019.

Family members take issue with the proposal "both from the perspective of accountability for the crimes committed, and from the perspective of acting in the public interest by ensuring a change in Boeing's behavior," said de Luis, who served on a panel assembled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to review Boeing's safety culture.

The agreement, which has been denounced as a "sweetheart deal" by family members and their attorneys, reportedly includes a requirement that Boeing plead guilty to conspiring to defraud the FAA in connection with the crashes, as well as a $487.2 million financial penalty. The company board would be required to meet with the victims' families and appoint an independent monitor to oversee Boeing's safety practices.

Boeing would be required to pay only half of the fine because prosecutors would give the company credit for a settlement payment officials already made in relation to the crashes.

Boeing paid $2.5 billion as part of another deal that granted it immunity from criminal prosecution over its planes' safety flaws, with the agreement mandating that it abide by the terms for a three-year period that ended in January. Two days before that period ended, the company came under new scrutiny after a door plug that was missing several bolts blew off a Boeing 737 MAX 9 flown by Alaska Airlines while the plane was at an elevation of 16,000 feet.

Erin Applebaum, a lawyer representing victims' relatives, said Sunday as the new plea deal proposal was reported that "when there is inevitably another Boeing crash and DOJ seeks to assign blame, they will have nowhere else to look but in the mirror."

Boeing has until the end of the week to accept or reject the agreement; if it agrees, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor will decide whether the deal is in the public interest.

Attorneys for the families said the relatives plan to call on the judge to reject the deal.

"The families are very unhappy and angered with DOJ's decisions and proposal," said Robert Clifford, lead counsel for the families who have filed civil litigation. "There is no accountability, no admission that Boeing's admitted crime caused the 346 deaths, and the families will most certainly object before Judge Reed O'Connor and ask that he reject the plea if Boeing accepts."

The memory of victims of the crashes in 2018 and 2019, said Paul Cassell, who represents the families of 15 people who were killed on the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Airlines planes, "demands more justice than this."

David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect, noted that some reporting on the deal suggests the DOJ will make a criminal charge, but said, "That's probably just trying to get Boeing to admit wrongdoing."

The reported deal comes a week after an employee of a contractor for one of Boeing's partner companies, Spirit Aerosystems, became the latest of more than a dozen whistleblowers to come forward about safety issues with the company's aircrafts. The worker notified Boeing of problems with 787 Dreamliner planes that posed "catastrophic" danger to people on board.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.