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Families push Justice Department to hold Boeing accountable for 737 Max crashes

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's been more than five years since the two crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets killed 346 people, and the families who lost loved ones are still pushing the Justice Department to hold Boeing accountable. Some of those family members made their case in person yesterday in Washington, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Family members of the crash victims gathered on a sidewalk a few blocks from the White House, holding up pictures of parents, children, husbands and wives who were killed. They had just met with lawyers at the Justice Department for five hours and emerged frustrated.

ZIPPORAH KURIA: I'm left with the question of, what was the point? What did I come here for?

ROSE: Zipporah Kuria flew in from London. Her father was on his way to Kenya, where he was born, to do philanthropic work, when he was killed in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Kuria says the families hoped the Justice Department would take their concerns about Boeing more seriously after a door plug panel blew out of a 737 Max jet in mid-air in January.

KURIA: We did come here quite hopeful, thinking, oh, my gosh, we're now on the same page. This is dangerous. But it was quickly apparent that the tenor had not changed, so it was quite disappointing.

ROSE: No one was seriously injured in that incident. Boeing has paid out billions of dollars in settlements from the two Max crashes, but the company and its leaders have largely avoided criminal prosecution by reaching a deal with the Justice Department that essentially put the company on probation. The victims' families were furious. Paul Njoroge lost his wife and three children in the second crash.

PAUL NJOROGE: There is a lot of complacency. You know, you sort of wonder whether they in bed with Boeing and another plane will crash.

ROSE: The families have now met several times with lawyers for the Justice Department, but they've gotten very few answers to their questions, says Yalena Lopez-Lewis, whose husband was killed on the Ethiopian flight.

YALENA LOPEZ-LEWIS: To be met with so many I don't knows, I haven't read this report, I'm unaware, is unacceptable. They say they hear us, but I don't feel heard.

ROSE: Lawyers for the family members argue that Boeing has violated the terms of its federal deal, and they are urging the DOJ to hold Boeing and its leaders accountable. Naoise Connolly Ryan, who flew in from Ireland, lost her husband, Mick.

NAOISE CONNOLLY RYAN: We don't want a third crash. We don't want anyone waking up to our situation. So we're hoping that the Department of Justice will do the right thing now.

ROSE: The Justice Department could extend the probation deal for another year or drop the criminal case against Boeing altogether. That decision could come within the next two months.

Joel Rose, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.