Families of Brits who died in plane crash see unlawful killing verdict

Families of Britons who died in plane crash in Ethiopia welcome ‘unlawful killing’ verdict at inquest as coroner rules Boeing’s conduct should ‘constitute the crime of manslaughter’

  • Joanna Toole, Samuel Pegram and Oliver Vick were among the 157 people killed

The families of three Britons who were killed in a plane crash in Ethiopia have welcomed a verdict of ‘unlawful killing’ at an inquest as the coroner ruled Boeing’s conduct should ‘constitute the crime of manslaughter’.

Humanitarians Joanna Toole, 36, Samuel Pegram, 25, and Oliver Vick, 45, were among 157 people killed on onboard flight ET302.

After an inquest held yesterday for the trio, coroner Penny Schofield ruled that she was satisfied Boeing had engaged in criminal conduct that led directly to the deaths of 149 passengers and 8 crew on board flight ET 302 on March 10 2019.

She rejected claims made by Boeing that it should not be responsible for the criminal conduct of two of its test pilots who failed to disclose crucial information to the FAA about safety critical procedures, or to train pilots adequately.

She said the failure by Boeing to answer questions about MCAS procedures may have played a part in causing the deaths of the victims and damned the ‘incomplete and inaccurate’ information provided to airlines and the flying public.

Adrian Toole pictured outside the Ethiopian Airlines ET302 crash inquest hearing at county hall, in Horsham

Mr Toole alongside his daughter, Joanna Toole, 36, who was killed on March 10, 2019, when Ethiopian Airlines ET302 crashed just minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa

At the inquest in Hornsham, Sussex, Boeing sought to distance themselves from their own test pilots’ failings, but the Coroner said that for the airline to now say that they were not representing their interests ‘was incredulous.’

The coroner ruled that the requirements for unlawful killing and gross negligence manslaughter were both established on the facts she had heard.

She described the conduct of the major airline company leading to the crash as ‘truly exceptionally bad so as to constitute the crime of manslaughter.’

The flight ended six minutes after the 737 Max aircraft took off from Addis Ababa, en route to Nairobi in Kenya.

The crash happened less than five months after an earlier Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed in the Java Sea on 29 October 2018, killing 189.

The dual incidents caused a two-year worldwide long-term grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 8, and later resulted in the manufacturer being charged with conspiracy to defraud the US in January 2021.

It’s alleged that certain software characteristics of the Max (the MCAS system) were concealed from the regulator during its certification process.

The erroneous activation of the MCAS system has since been blamed for both the Lion Air Flight 610 crash in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019.

Speaking after the verdict, Mark Pegram, the father of Sam Pegram, from Preston, Lancashire, said: ‘The verdict is the end of a long road to seek the truth of what happened on flight ET302 and ultimately justice for all of those who lost their lives as a result.

Pictured: British humanitarian worker Sam Pegram, 25, who was among the 157 people killed

Humanitarian Oliver Vick was also killed on onboard flight ET302

‘Like so many on that flight, my son Sam was an amazing human being, who cared about others and was working for the Norwegian Refugee Council when his life was taken away in a crash that should never have happened.

‘We welcome the verdict, but nothing can bring our loved ones home to us. The least we deserve is the truth and to ensure that no one else ever has to go through such an ordeal as we have.’

Joanna Toole’s father, Adrian Toole, of Exmouth, Devon, added: ‘The verdict is the one all the families wanted, but it’s a bittersweet moment after four years of fighting for the truth following the death of our loved ones in such a needless way.

‘Having followed events in the US courts, the inquest has confirmed what many of us already knew. This aircraft did not crash as a result of any mechanical failure. Its design was fundamentally flawed.

‘Boeing cut corners in order to maximise profit, including failing to train pilots adequately, and it is this that has led directly to the deaths of 157 people on Joanna’s flight and 348 people when you take into account the others killed on the Lion Air flight.

‘Joanna was a star, a selfless, special person, with a big heart and a passion to improve the lives of animals and the environment. Like so many other people on this flight, she was a humanitarian, a United Nations consultant with her whole life ahead of her. Joanna’s loss is incalculable, not just to me and the family but all who knew her.’

Following their deaths, several of the British families, including Mark Pegram and Adrian Toole, instructed specialist aviation lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate and support them throughout the inquest process.

Vincent Nichol, one of the specialist aviation solicitors at Irwin Mitchell representing the families, said: ‘This is a truly tragic case which has affected the lives of hundreds of people and proved devastating for Mark, Adrian and all the other families involved.

Investigators with the U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) look over debris at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302

Wreckage is piled at the crash scene of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302

‘Four years on and the families have now got the verdict they were looking for and the hope is now that those responsible will now face the consequences from what happened during those six minutes when the flight ended in such terrible circumstances.

‘While yesterday’s conclusion is welcome, there are many spouses, partners, parents and siblings from over 30 nations whose lives have been ruined forever by what happened on that day.

‘On behalf of our clients, we hope the verdict reinforces the need for essential work which must be undertaken by Boeing in order to rebuild the trust of the travelling public. It is also time that Boeing issued a long overdue and sincere apology to the family and friends of the English victims who were killed on 10 March 2019.

‘The fact is that this defective aircraft was flying all over the world and could have crashed at any time anywhere in the world. We all need to know that the fundamental design defects are fully and finally rectified, and that the travelling public is now safe.’

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