Nadia Milleron and Michael Stumo lost their daughter Samya Stumo in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash that killed 157 people in March, and they’re determined to prevent other families from experiencing the same tragedy.
But the federal agency in charge of keeping our skies safe isn't making it easy, they say.
Ali Bahrami, associate administrator for aviation safety for the Federal Aviation Administration, testified at a Senate hearing last week that the agency knew about the software problem with the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft after the October 2018 crash in Indonesia that killed all 189 passengers and crew on board, but the agency did not immediately take action.
Milleron said many of the victims’ families think this admission should get Bahrami fired.
She saw a video of Bahrami’s testimony on YouTube and drove from their home in Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. to respond to his remarks.
When Milleron’s son asked what the FAA could have done differently in the Indonesian crash, Bahrami said there was nothing they could have done and that the agency is prepared to move forward despite acknowledging a shortage of software engineers qualified to certify planes.
“The lack of thinking about what the FAA could do better in the future was unbelievable,” she said. “The man is as hard-boiled as they come.”
Bahrami has also suggested the pilots were culpable in the crashes, but a preliminary report on the incident released by Ethiopian officials in March revealed that the pilots and crew complied with emergency procedures as instructed by the manufacturer.
The plane’s data recorder showed the aircraft’s automatic nose-down command was activated four times without action by the pilot, the report stated.
“They talk to us like they're Boeing,” said Milleron. “They said, ‘We were disappointed that we couldn't get the planes back up in the summer.’ Why would the FAA, a safety agency, be disappointed about that?”
She urges people to contact the aviation subcommittees for the House and the Senate to demand that aerospace manufacturer Boeing testify.
Milleron also asks folks to encourage Congress to put pressure on the FAA so that the planes remain out of service until all investigations into the aircraft are complete, including an independent study ordered by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and a grand jury investigation by the Department of Justice.
"We again express our sincerest condolences on behalf of the FAA to the victims and their families of both Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610," a spokesperson for the FAA said in a statement. "These accidents have served as a catalyst for multiple official inquiries. We welcome the scrutiny from these safety experts and look forward to their findings. The lessons learned from these tragedies will be the springboard to an even greater level of safety."
In April, Milleron and Michael Stumo filed a lawsuit against Boeing in the U.S. District Court in Northern Illinois that alleges the company put profits over safety and failed to tell pilots how to manage the software issue.
“Sadly, these two entirely preventable airline crashes demonstrate that the FAA is ill-equipped to oversee the aerospace industry and will downplay serious hazards and safety risks to the public rather than sound the alarm about safety concerns, problems, issues and hazards that pose substantial, probable, and/or foreseeable risks to human life,” the lawsuit states. “Boeing, and the regulators that enabled it, must be held accountable for their reckless actions.”
Their daughter, 24-year-old Samya Stumo, was flying from Ethiopia to Kenya for her first assignment for a global health nonprofit.
Two months into the job, her superiors deemed her mature enough to go set up a new office, which her father said is unusual for someone so young.
“She was amazing,” Michael Stumo said. “She taught herself to read at age four. She was raising pigs at age seven. She was driving a dump truck or on our farm at age 10. She went to school for college for a year at age 14.”
Receiving this assignment demonstrated her intelligence and charisma, but now her parents say they wish she hadn’t.
This segment aired on September 4, 2019.