There were three fatal accidents within a six-month period involving aircraft
manufactured by Boeing. Two of those accidents occurred during passenger
operations and both involved "low hours" aircraft from the company's
best-selling 737 line. The third accident occurred during an air cargo
operation and involved an older, "high hours," 767 model that
originally entered service as a passenger aircraft but had been refitted
for air cargo.
Lion Air 610
29 October, 2018
Lion Air 610, a Boeing 737 Max 8 that had been delivered only two months
earlier, departed Jakarta (Indonesia) at 6:20 a.m. local time on a scheduled
1-hour flight. About eight minutes into the flight, the pilot contacted
Jakarta air traffic control requesting an immediate return to the airport.
That request was granted, but communication was lost when the aircraft
disappeared from air traffic control radar at 6:33 a.m.
About an hour later, word was received from workers aboard an offshore
drilling platform that they had observed Lion Air 610 crash into the Java
Sea a few miles from their work site. When those workers later gave sworn
statements to Indonesian accident investigators, they agreed that the
aircraft appeared to be intact when it struck the water's surface
at a markedly
nose-down angle. None of the 189 passengers and flight crew survived.
Atlas Air 3591
23 February, 2019
Atlas Air 3591, a Boeing 767-375 that had been refitted as a cargo carrier,
left Miami International Airport at 11:33 a.m. local time (10:33 a.m.
at its destination) en route to George Bush International Airport in Houston.
The flight's last communication was with Bush International's
approach control, when the aircraft was some 40 miles east-southeast of
the airport, was routine and gave no indication of distress.
At approximately 12:45 p.m. local time, witnesses in and around the town
of Anahuac and the Trinity Bay area reported seeing the aircraft enter a steep,
nose-down, descent over Trinity Bay before crashing into the marshland / shallow
water along its northern margin. Local media sources quoted witnesses
as saying they did not see a trail of smoke behind the aircraft and that
the aircraft appeared to be intact prior to impact.
Ethiopian Airlines 302
10 March, 2019
Ethiopian Airlines 302, a Boeing 737 Max 8 that entered service the previous
November, left Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) at 8:38 a.m. local time. Some six
minutes later, the pilot declared an in-flight emergency and requested
a return to Addis Ababa. The aircraft then disappeared from flight tracking
radar and its pilot did not respond to further attempts at communication
from controllers. The aircraft crashed about 40 miles southeast of the
airport, killing all 157 passengers and crewmembers.
Early reports quoted flight controllers as stating that the aircraft's
altitude became "erratic," which could have been the reason
the pilot requested an emergency return to the airport. Photographs taken
at the scene show what is identified as an "impact crater" created
when the aircraft struck the ground. Based on the photos of the crater
and its surroundings, experienced aircraft accident investigators stated
that the aircraft was probably intact when it struck the ground at an extreme
What the accidents had in common
Although these accidents were widely separated by both
distance, they have several factors in common:
All three aircraft were manufactured by Boeing, although the Atlas Air
767 was considerably
older than the two 737 Max 8s.
None of the accidents occurred during poor weather conditions, although
there is some evidence that Atlas 3591
may have encountered air turbulence.
The pilots of both the Lion and Ethiopian flights reportedly experienced
problems that were severe enough for them to request an emergency return
to the airport.
Media sources quote NTSB investigators as saying that the "Black Boxes" recovered
from Atlas 3591 indicate that the flight crew seemed to have
lost control of the aircraft about 20 seconds before impact.
According to witnesses, and the available physical evidence, all three
aircraft appeared to be
intact when they impacted at an
Although we are attorneys and
not accident investigators, we feel that the available evidence
suggests that some problem with the
avionics and/or the
"fly-by-wire" flight control system (the electronic hardware and software that allows the flight crew to
control an aircraft) appears to have been the
both the common and immediate cause of these accidents. Before explaining
why we speculate all three aircraft crashed due to some electrical/computer
malfunction, we need to explain
how these systems function.
Generally, "avionics" now refers to the computerized mechanisms
that monitor and regulate an aircraft's
internal state (e.g. engine performance, fuel status, and cabin pressure), its
navigation, and its communication with ground controllers or other aircraft.
On the other hand, its "flight control system" is what the flight
crew uses to safely fly the aircraft. The flight control system relies
on numerous sensors that "feed" information such as the aircraft's
speed, the position of the aircraft relative to the ground, and other
data of immediate importance to the flight crew. In modern aircraft, the
human flight crew still retains control of the aircraft although the flight
control system will automatically attempt to correct any flight situation that it
interprets as a danger to the aircraft. Obviously, if a flight control sensor malfunctions or the flight control
misinterprets sensor data, the aircraft is in danger.
With those factors in mind, we base our previously-stated opinion that
a malfunction of each aircraft's flight control system was responsible
for the aircraft's crash on the following:
Although inexperienced pilots have been known to become disoriented during
flight and, as a consequence, "fly the aircraft into the water"
(as was the case in
JFK Jr.'s accident), it is inconceivable that three professional flight crews, each with
thousands of flight hours' experience, would make the same errors
- Witness reports indicate that all three aircraft were intact at the moment
of impact seems to rule out an inflight catastrophe, such as a fire or
explosion, as the cause of the accidents.
On the flight previous flight (the day before Lion 610), another crew noted
that the aircraft's flight control system seemed to be behaving erratically
and seemed to be having difficulty determining the aircraft's "nose
up or nose down" relative to the horizon (a
critical factor in normal flight operations).
- Two flight crews declared inflight emergencies due to control problems,
and the third flight crew (Atlas 3591) may not have had time to notify
air traffic controllers of their emergency.
- All three aircraft impacted at an extreme nose-down angle.
At this time the exact causes of these accidents have yet to be determined.
However, if the flight control avionics are implicated as we suspect,
this leads to the question of where
liability for the loss of life and property may lie. We see this issue as follows:
Boeing manufactured the avionics, and the avionics are found to have caused the
accidents, then Boeing could be held
did not manufacture the avionics, and the avionics are found to have caused the
accidents, then the manufacturer
andBoeing could be held "jointly and severally" liable.
If there was a suspected issue with an aircraft's flight control system,
and the aircraft was allowed to remain in service, then the
airline (and probably Boeing) could be found liable.
Again, note that we are only speculating as to the causes of these accidents.
We will provide updates to this post as they are warranted.