We are all guilty of assuming that everything is safe. From the streets we navigate throughout our day, the crosswalks we walk on, and of course, walking down that airport concourse en route to catch our flight. We think nothing of those activities until something happens. In October 2018, a flight from Jakarta, Indonesia, crashed minutes after takeoff. A massive blow to the aviation industry caused an international stir. People from around the world were questioning the accident and wanted to know what unfolded during those crucial minutes. The weather conditions were perfect for flying. Why did it crash? Then, five months later, in Ethiopia, another plane crashed. Both planes were a Boeing 737 MAX.
This caused an international outcry demanding answers as to why the 737 MAX airplanes were failing when the conditions were perfect. The new Netflix documentary titled Downfall: The Case Against Boeing explores what happened and peels back the layers as to the preventive conditions that could’ve altered history and spared over three hundred families the grief of losing a loved one.
Directed by Rory Kennedy (who has made some explosive documentaries such as Last Days in Vietnam and Ghosts of Abu Ghraib), wastes no time getting to the heart of the story. The documentary opens with an examination of the Jakarta plane crash, which involved Lion Air Flight 610, an aircraft just two months old that crashed thirteen minutes after taking off, killing all 189 passengers and crew. Then we see the results on the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which crashed just six minutes after leaving the runway and killed 157 people in total. The film interviews experts in the field of aviation, including pilots, previous engineers who worked for Boeing, Congressmen, members of the Press, and the victims’ families. No one from Boeing agreed to be a part of this film nor be interviewed.
Instead of showing us dramatic recreations, the movie instead puts us in the cockpit of the plane during a simulation to view what the pilots were experiencing during those fateful minutes. After both planes crashed, the world wanted answers. Even though the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) refused to ground the 737 MAX airplanes, China was the first country to do so, and other countries followed suit. President Donald Trump even ordered a grounding of all 737 MAX airplanes despite the pleas from Boeing ensuring the airplane was safe.
As the investigation wore on, Congressman Peter DeFazio opened a congressional investigation to uncover what happened and determine whether or not Boeing was aware of any dangers that the 737 MAX airplane posed to the pilots and the public. The results of the investigations are shocking, to say the least, and involve a cover-up to secure corporate profits while eliminating the need to increase safety measures. What I didn’t know and what’s the most interesting about the documentary is the exploration of the past business practices of Boeing going back to the 1960s. There’s a key pivotal moment when Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Everything changed after that, and I urge you to pay close attention to these sequences because, after that, you are going to get angry.
Without revealing everything, the issue with the aircraft is something called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), which involves preventing the plane from stalling since the plane had to be redesigned following a change in the engine construction. The engines were sitting higher on the wing, and this operating system was developed so the aircraft would be properly aligned when flying. This proved to be more complicated than what I’m explaining here, but the MCAS itself proved to be a crucial flaw in the airplane, which threatened the lives of everyone on board the plane and the potential aircraft that were still in service.
The movie takes us on a journey that will make us angry with Boeing since the evidence against them is overwhelming. As the story unfolds, we are learning so much, and as the saying goes, “disasters don’t just happen; they are a chain of critical events.” This movie will shock you, horrify you, and leave you feeling obligated for a chain in the industry when something so simple can be implemented to prevent future disasters.
Score 4.5 out of 5
Downfall: The Case Against Boeing is a powerful documentary that examines the crucial events that ended up dooming the Jakarta and Ethiopia flights. The reaction from Boeing is appalling and rage-inducing, but the persistent investigation would later prove that Boeing was responsible for the deadly events that shocked the world. In a world where all we hear is “safety comes first” or “safety is our top priority,” it’s looking more like words spoken from a script than actually meaning anything of significance. May we never forget the victims of those plane crashes and the lasting impression that Boeing proudly said to the world. This documentary will leave you heart-wrenched and exasperated.