UK News

British victims of Boeing 737 Max Ethiopian Airlines crash ‘unlawfully killed'

The inquest heard that a flying control system on the Boeing 737 Max aircraft had malfunctioned (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Anahita Hossein-Pour, PA

British victims of an airline crash in Ethiopia where all 157 passengers and crew on board died were “unlawfully killed”, a coroner has concluded.

The finding comes four years after Ethiopian Airlines ET302 crashed en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi on March 10 2019, killing humanitarian workers Samuel Pegram, 25, Oliver Vick, 45, and sustainability campaigner Joanna Toole, 36, among others.

The family of a fourth UK national killed in the crash, Abdulqadir Qasim, 46, were present at the inquest in Horsham, West Sussex, as an interested party, but the father-of-four was not formally recorded as part of the hearing as he was not repatriated back to the UK.

The inquest heard, in a final report from December 2022, that the Ethiopian Airplane Accident Investigation Bureau had found that a flying control system on the Boeing 737 Max aircraft had malfunctioned, causing the aircraft to begin “repetitive and uncommandable” nose diving which the pilots could not physically control.

The inquest also heard that “safety critical” information on the control system and awareness of the mechanism was deliberately not disclosed by two Boeing company pilots to the American authorities, which led to a lower level of training being needed to operate the planes.

Boeing was fined 2.3 billion US dollars (£1.8 billion) in 2021 after it was found that the actions of its employees had misled regulators about the control system.

Senior coroner Penelope Schofield also found that a contributing factor in the victims’ deaths was that Boeing had failed to provide procedures to operate the system in a flight crew manual, and that information requested by Ethiopian Airlines’ training department was “incomplete”.

Ms Schofield added that if the information had been provided, it would have “significantly altered the outcome”.

The Ethiopian Airlines crash followed just months after another Boeing 737 Max plane, operated by Lion Air Max, crashed in Indonesia killing all 189 people on board.

Ms Schofield paid tribute to the “impressive lives” of the British victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash and to all the 157 passengers and crew killed, many of whom she noted were environmentalists and humanitarians.

She added: “The true impact of this loss on humanity may never be known.”

In statements from the families heard at the inquest, Mark Pegram, Mr Pegram’s father, said how the Leeds University alumni had “made the world a better place” and had an “infectious sense of humour”.

The 25-year-old had started a job at a refugee agency based in Geneva and had worked previously in Jordan for humanitarian organisations.

Mark Pegram said: “Sam fought for justice for others, so I’m here today to get justice for Sam.”

United Nations worker Ms Toole was described as “hugely passionate” and “tenacious”, and had co-founded an organisation to save ocean wildlife from abandoned fishing gear.

Her family and partner Paul Kiernan spoke of her love of animals and how she had dedicated her life to protecting them.

Mr Vick, who was working for the UN in Somalia, was also remembered as a loving father of two daughters, who had a “love of people and a love of life”.

For Mr Qasim, who was a bus driver for 16 years, “family was everything”, and the inquest heard he was en route to Kenya to talk about a new job opportunity to join his cousin’s company, hoping to build a better future for his loved ones.

Ms Schofield said: “We should not forget the 157 people who cruelly lost their lives. This huge loss will be borne by their families and friends all around the world.

“The process has taken over four years, it’s been a long and difficult journey. I hope through this process, you (the families) felt you had a voice.”

Speaking after the hearing, Ms Toole’s father Adrian Toole said: “It’s been a long time coming, this four years did seem unnecessary but finally we are all here and we got the verdict we were hoping for.”

But on the loss of his daughter, he added: “It will always be a permanent loss to us.”

Since Ms Toole’s death, her family and friends have set up a charity in her name, the Joanna Toole Foundation, to continue her legacy. So far, the organisation has handed out more than £130,000 in grants to animal welfare causes.

“I think Jo would be very pleased that we jumped to that,” said Mr Toole, who is chair of trustees for the charity.