Boeing's CEO said pilots did not 'completely' follow emergency procedures during Ethiopia Airlines 737 Max disaster, laying out a different story to investigators

ethiopian airlines boeing 737 maxA man examines a pile of twisted metal gathered by workers during the continuing recovery efforts at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 on March 11, 2019 in Bishoftu, EthiopiaJemal Countess/Getty Images

  • Boeing's CEO outlined a different story to investigators when he spoke about the fatal Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crash to shareholders on Monday.
  • Dennis Muilenburg said that pilots did not "completely" follow emergency procedures, though investigators said in their preliminary report that the crew "repeatedly" followed Boeing's procedures and still couldn't control the plane.
  • The preliminary report did not say if it was possible that the pilots took any additional steps that could have prevented them from bringing the plane under control.
  • While Boeing defended the design of the 737 Max and said there was not a "technical slip or gap," it did pledge to make the aircraft safer.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Boeing's CEO stated Monday that the pilots in the fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash involving a 737 Max aircraft did not "completely" follow the manufacturers emergency procedures - laying out a different story to crash investigators.

Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing's CEO, made the assertion when addressing shareholders at the company's annual meeting in Chicago on Monday, contradicting an initial investigation into the crash which found that Ethiopian Airlines pilots had followed Boeing's own procedures.

Muilenberg also vouched for the plane's design and said that there was no "technical slip or gap" in building the planes.

He said that its automated MCAS anti-stall software system, identified as a potential issue in the two fatal crashes involving the plane, met the company's own safety criteria.

Read more: The aftermath of the deadly 737 Max crashes has already cost Boeing $1 billion - and it can't predict how much worse it might get

Muilenburg said all systems designed by Boeing are developed with the understanding that "these airplanes are flown in the hands of pilots," CNN reported.

Boeing CEO Dennis MuilenburgBoeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg speaks during a press conference after the annual shareholders meeting at the Field Museum on April 29, 2019 in Chicago, IllinoisJim Young-Pool/Getty Images

Boeing has not tried to absolve itself completely from blame for the crashes - Muilenburg previously apologized for the disasters, and acknowledged that a sensor had malfunctioned during both incidents.

But Muilenburg's statements on Monday shift the focus onto the pilots in a way that contrasts with the stance of investigators, who said in the preliminary report on the investigation into the crash that the Ethiopian Airlines pilots had followed Boeing's own procedures, but could not stop the plane from crashing into the ground.

Read more: Boeing's CEO survived a shareholder vote seeking to prevent him from also being the company's board chairman

Ethiopia's transport minister, Dagmawit Moges, said the plane's crew "performed all the procedures repeatedly provided by the manufacturer but was not able to control the aircraft."

Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement after the report: "The preliminary report confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that the crew followed the right procedures."

This first report into the investigation, which is being aided by the US National Transportation Safety Board, had turned the focus onto Boeing and the design of the 737 Max.

Ethiopian transport minister Dagmawit Moges ethiopian airlines boeing 737 maxEthiopian transport minister Dagmawit Moges addresses a news conference on the preliminary report to the Ethiopian Airlines ET 302 plane crash in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia April 4, 2019REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

The preliminary report did not say if the pilots could have taken additional steps alongside Boeing's procedures that could have prevented them from gaining control of the plane.

Analysts and pilots told Reuters after the release of the preliminary report that some of the steps taken by the pilots were unusual, including leaving the plane at full take-off power.

Read more: Southwest and FAA officials never knew Boeing turned off a safety feature on its 737 Max jets, and dismissed ideas about grounding them

Boeing has also come under fire for how it trained pilots to use the MCAS system. Cockpit voice recordings outlined to Reuters revealed that the Ethiopian Airlines pilots frantically read an through emergency handbook to try and find a way to control the plane as it plunged towards the ground.

On Monday, Muilenburg explained why Boeing did not disclose the existence of the system to pilots, saying that the system is "fundamentally embedded in the handling qualities of the airplane. So when you train on the airplane, you are being trained on MCAS."

"It's not a separate system to be trained on."

Boeing 737 MaxAP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Read more: Boeing's CEO explains why the company didn't tell 737 Max pilots about the software system that contributed to 2 fatal crashes

While defending the plane's design and pilot training, Muilenburg said that the company is working to make the 737 Max safer. Boeing is currently working on an updated software system, and the planes will not be allowed to fly again until the US Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators around the world approve the fix.

Muilenburg said that the plane will be one of the world's safest when it returns, adding that he will take a flight on a 737 Max as soon as it is cleared to fly again to prove his confidence in the aircraft. He repeated his assertion that the company will work to "earn and re-earn" the trust of the flying public.

During the meeting Monday, Muilenburg also survived a challenge to his role as joint chairman and CEO of the company. Shareholders rejected a resolution that would have stripped Muilenberg of Boeing's chairmanship and installed an independent chair.

Get the latest Boeing stock price here.
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