'Downfall: The Case Against Boeing' argues tragedy could have been avoided

Thursday, February 17, 2022
'Downfall: The Case Against Boeing' finds humanity beyond headlines
Documentary "Downfall: The Case Against Boeing" argues that the deaths of 346 passengers aboard two airline flights could easily have been avoided. Sandy Kenyon has more.

NEW YORK -- A new documentary takes a closer look at an aviation tragedy: the deaths of 346 passengers aboard two airline flights that crashed.

"Downfall: The Case Against Boeing" argues that tragedy could easily have been avoided.

The grief of the families affected is "beyond imagining" in the words of the film's director, Rory Kennedy.

"I wanted to know what had happened, I want to know: who knew what when, who was responsible for this?" Kennedy said.

In seeking those answers, she manages to find the humanity behind the headlines, and the result is a masterpiece.

The human cost of putting profits before people is plainly evident in "Downfall" after two crashes of brand new Boeing 737 MAX airplanes within five months of each other. That doesn't happen in modern aviation.

The cause turned out to be a new, MCAS system, but when it failed once, the planes kept flying until tragedy struck twice. Kennedy puts the blame on Boeing.

"They made the decision to keep it in the air because it was going to cost them financially to ground that plane," Kennedy said. "It's a sucker punch. It's devastating."

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She traces the roots of all this back to the greed-is-good ethos of the 1980s and shows how a merger in the 1990s led to a change in culture at Boeing. Kennedy calls it a "culture of concealment," and the film quotes the company's personnel talking about, "Jedi mind-tricking regulators."

Luckily, there's no shortage of heroes in this story. The cast of good people includes a skeptical journalist, Andy Pasztor from the Wall Street Journal, a persistent U.S. Congressman, Peter DeFazio, D-OR, and family members determined to hold a company accountable.

"It's unimaginable," Kennedy said. "The pain and suffering these families have gone through."

Her goal is simple.

"I want to make sure that these planes are safe and to do everything I could in this film to prevent something like this happening again," Kennedy said.

Sandy Kenyon believes her mission is accomplished. Viewers understand why the tragedy occurs without ever losing sight of the human cost.

Boeing released a statement, saying in part, the company has made "significant changes" since the accidents and also made changes to the Boeing 737 MAX to ensure the crashes could "never happen again."

"Downfall: The Case Against Boeing" is streaming starting Friday, Feb. 18th and also showing on the big screen at The IFC Center.

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