When Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea on October 29, 2018, after departing Soekarno–Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, en route to Depati Amir Airport in Pangkal Pinang, the tragedy of it was mired by the media’s biased coverage that almost immediately placed all the blame on the pilots.
The assumption was that since it was an Indonesian carrier, perhaps the lack of training and poor skill set of the flight’s captain, who happened to be Indian, and the co-pilot who was Indonesian, combined with the task of navigating a highly sophisticated computerized system, inevitably resulted in the deadliest air crash involving a 737 jetliner, and the first major accident involving the currently grounded MAX 8 series.
As a Nigerian-American who grew up in the metropolis of Lagos, there was never a shortage of the chaos and mayhem that was borne out of the dysfunction valves that British invaders produced after greedily defacing a functioning landscape, before abandoning the pieces for warring factions to tortuously piece back together.
Our official carrier, Nigeria Airways was instituted in 1958, about two years before we were granted independence from British colonial rule, and back then it was known as the West African Airways Cooperation (WAAC).
The glory days of Nigeria Airways was during the seventies and early half of the eighties, but as the nineties beckoned, the bribery and corruption of the Nigerian government began to reveal dire consequences of long-term deficiencies, and this led to the demise of once-robust institutions, including Nigeria Airways.
But domestic air travel continued to operate through engagement with asset management companies and invested subsidiaries, that infused the market with a handful of dependable airlines that also serviced key destinations around the continent, Europe and the United States.
All the planes and accessories maintained in Nigeria are purchased abroad, and the main issue with those transactions is the deadly nonchalance of stingy buyers, who are willing to stock up on overused merchandise that are really supposed to be retired from flight mode and reduced to sellable parts.
These foreign companies that willingly sell damaged goods with full awareness of the repercussions are also guilty of indulging in the worst form of greed, that produce horrific air crashes that take the lives of helpless travelers, who unknowingly pay for that one-way ticket to a burning inferno.
It’s the reason why the once-trusted Dana Air that services the popular route between the nation’s capital Abuja, and the former capital city Lagos, experienced the unfathomable on Sunday morning of June 3, 2012.
The crippled McDonnell Douglas MD-83 that took off from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, en route to Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, piloted by the Captain, who was American, and a First Officer of Indian descent, tragically crashed into the densely populated neighborhood of Iju-Ishaga, just a few miles from its destination.
Once the awful news went viral, it didn’t take long for the captured images of the horrific scene to surface. It was a fiery mess of debris and body parts, as the locals jumped in to provide assistance to prevent the massive fire from spreading.
The cockpit voice recorder was eventually recovered, and it revealed the harrowing final minutes of the doomed flight. The plane lost both of its engines as it approached the runway, which essentially gave the barely-functioning jetliner permission to completely fall apart in the air, causing it to rapidly lose altitude as the Captain and co-pilots tried in vain to regain control.
The investigation into what caused the fateful flight to end in a disaster that left no survivors, concluded months later. The gathered analysis relied on technicalities that attributed most of the blame to poor decision-making on the part of the pilots when it came to timely response to severe issues plaguing vital power centers.
But it’s almost impossible not to reference the glaring offense in the form of a decades-old plane that was being forced to fly past its expiration date.
It wasn’t surprising to discover that Nigerian-owned airline carriers have been habitually endangering the lives of citizens, who expect to board their flights and arrive safely at their destinations without the fear that the plane carrying them and loved ones has a very high chance of an irreversible mid-air stall due to foreseeable engine failure.
That mentality of recognizing the woefully detrimental limitations of a troubled nation that often times fits the narrative of Trump’s “shithole” description, naturally carries over to similar territories that are classified as “third world” or “developing countries.”
This explains why I readily accepted the initial explanation of what brought down Lion Air flight 610, based on the fact that it was an Indonesian carrier, and also the ethnicities of the pilots. I shamefully applied my own biases on the misleading statements that were promptly released without considering alternately worthy theories.
My narrow-minded perception of that fatal incident was co-signed by Boeing and the FAA, as both organizations cowardly concocted reports that clearly identified pilot error as the main culprit, with the added dosage of how the intricately designed “flight-control software” was apparently too complicated for the simple-minded pilots, who were hampered by the lack of adequate training and the smarts to diligently grasp the basics.
But thankfully, Boeing wasn’t able to avoid full accountability months later, when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 320 failed to reach its destination of Nairobi from Addis Ababa, and instead plunged into the earth, minutes after takeoff on the morning of March 10, 2019.
All 157 people on board perished, and unlike the Lion Air disaster that killed 189 people with majority of the bodies recovered, almost none of the passengers on the crashed Ethiopian airliner were identifiable due to the impact of the crash that created a gigantic crater, that featured scattered debris that had been pulverized beyond recognition.
Once reputable news outlets confirmed the fate of of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 320, the outpouring of grief was immediate, as global leaders, humanitarian outfits, and renowned educational institutions issued official messages of condolences to the bereaved relatives of representatives who lost their lives.
The only world leader who opted to remain silent, despite the fact that Americans were among the dead, was President Trump, and his notable refusal to participate in that period of global mourning perfectly aligned with Boeing’s terrifically inappropriate response to the crash, which proved to be the PR nightmare that would never be salvaged.
Boeing was hoping to replicate the “home-free” method of surviving the controversy of another 737 MAX 8 catastrophe by firmly downplaying the demonstrated problems with the unstable “MCAS anti-stall system,” that was prematurely added as the prized tool that would give the ill-fated models the boost required to surpass formidable competitors.
There wasn’t even a sufficient apology from Boeing with the reassuring pledge to thoroughly investigate the deadly crash in a timely fashion, or the decency of refraining from baseless speculation.
It all played out the way it did with Lion Air, as the pilots of Ethiopian Air Flight 320 were immediately blamed for the crash because of their lack of training which resulted in their inability to stabilize the plane after it began to nosedive.
But Ethiopian Airlines CEO, Tewolde GebreMariam, transformed into a fearless warrior on behalf of a world carrier with an impeccable track record, that was being unfairly criminalized by a powerful American multinational corporation, simply because of its nationality.
Boeing was once again accusing the Ethiopian pilots of the same level of inexperience that was levied on their unfortunate counterparts — months earlier.
Africa’s biggest airline had worked really hard to develop the flawless reputation that was now disintegrating on the world stage, and the only thing to do was to fight back. GebreMariam and his equally committed colleagues examined the evidence from the crash, and determined that their well-trained pilots had accurately followed protocol.
The published findings by Ethiopia Airlines was the catalyst for Boeing’s presently embattled status, that has forced the indefinite grounding of all 737 MAX 8 jetliners, while the ongoing investigation in Europe unearths the damning testimonies of witnesses, who are supplying the behind-the-scenes operations that showcase the cost-cutting maneuvers when it came to updating pilots in “shithole countries” on how to navigate a very tricky sensor system.
And even as Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg tries to pilot the terrain of damage control by accepting accountability for the two fatal crashes, while repeatedly issuing apologies to those affected, the truth is that nothing can be done to restore the trust that has been irretrievably broken by Boeing’s acute lack of decorum and honorability, stemming from false accusations against brown-skinned pilots, who were wrongfully blamed for something that was out of their control.
Aside from the problematic reliance on untruths and unsightly deceptiveness, there’s also the overt racism, that proves how if Air France or Lufthansa had crashed one of the 737 MAX 8 planes, there wouldn’t be the need to shame the pilots of those famed carriers before even launching investigations.
The long road ahead for Boeing also includes legal battles with the relatives of crash victims of both Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 320, and that’s going to be a costly endeavor when you consider what’s at stake and how gross negligence plays a huge role in this unfolding horror story.
It’s unbearably disappointing, but not at all shocking that an American corporation would conspire with well-positioned political agents, including the FAA to plot ways to do exactly what the Nigerian government has been embroiled in at the expense of human lives.
The major victory so far is the restoration of the heroic efforts of the pilots that were killed in action. Facing racism even in death is a blasphemous act of supremacy, and hopefully Boeing will pay dearly for that too.