News Brief: Mosque Attack, Boeing 737 Max, Midwest Flooding

Mar 18, 2019
Originally published on March 18, 2019 10:49 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There were fathers, wives, sons. Some had moved to New Zealand for a better life. Some had built their lives in New Zealand. Over the weekend, thousands of people gathered to remember them and all of the 50 people who were killed in the attacks on two mosques Friday.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The suspected gunman survived, and his court-appointed lawyer tells reporters that the suspect plans to represent himself in court. He is the author of a lengthy screed that described immigrants as invaders, a screed that he sent to the office of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The prime minister's cabinet has agreed in principle to tighten the gun laws.

MARTIN: We go now to NPR's Rob Schmitz, who is in Christchurch. Rob, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: I understand you've been talking to survivors and victims' families over the weekend. What have those conversations been like?

SCHMITZ: They're obviously very emotional - lot of crying, lot of tears. Today I was with family members and friends who were finally starting to receive the bodies of their loved ones from the hospital. The sheer number of the dead and the way they've died has made identifying these bodies a difficult and time-consuming process for authorities, for hospital staff. And what's made this situation even more pressing is the Muslim tradition of burying the deceased as soon as possible. I met a man named Karkun Miah (ph), an immigrant from Bangladesh who lost four close friends. I met Kokan as he was waiting outside the hospital for their bodies, and here's what he said about one of them.

KARKUN MIAH: (Speaking foreign language).

SCHMITZ: And Rachel, he's saying here that his friend Hosne was like a mother to the tiny Bangladeshi community here. She helped teach the Quran. She helped work as a midwife. She helped solve marital disputes. Her husband is in a wheelchair, and she was shot and killed soon after wheeling him into one of the mosques. He, incredibly, survived. But Kokan says losing her feels like losing his own mother.

MARTIN: And there were so many others who were injured - right? - in this attack who are still in the hospital.

SCHMITZ: Yeah, there were around 50 people injured. More than two dozen of them remain in the hospital. Nine people are in critical condition, including another friend of Kokan, the man we just heard from. The 25-year-old wife of his roommate was shot in the chest twice and is miraculously still alive. He told me she has a 50-50 chance of surviving.

MARTIN: What about this debate now - or is it even a debate? - over the gun laws in New Zealand?

SCHMITZ: Well, it's not that much of a debate. I mean, it is a complicated issue because many New Zealanders own guns. There's nearly one gun for every three citizens here. Many people I've spoken to, though, agree that assault rifles like the AR-15, which was used in this attack, should be banned. And that very well could be the outcome from New Zealand's government. I spoke to Andrew Taylor (ph) today. He owns a gun shop in Christchurch, and he told me he's refusing to sell certain guns, as well as the magazines that enable them to shoot more bullets.

ANDREW TAYLOR: Anyone can buy those magazines. They're just not allowed to put them in their gun. But if they do, what can we do? So we've pulled the sales of those, and we've pulled the sales of all of our platform guns until we hear further notice from the police or the government to what we are supposed to do.

SCHMITZ: And Rachel, that includes the AR-15. He's no longer selling that, despite the fact that his phone has been ringing off the hook since the shooting from people who want to buy that gun because they're scared it's going to be banned soon.

MARTIN: Sounds familiar. We've seen that repeated here in the U.S.

SCHMITZ: That's right.

MARTIN: NPR's Rob Schmitz reporting from Christchurch, New Zealand. Rob, thank you. We appreciate it.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: U.S. officials commonly say this country sets the gold standard for aviation safety. So how did an apparent problem with Boeing airplanes elude the notice of safety inspectors?

INSKEEP: The Seattle Times was posing that question even before the second of two crashes of Boeing planes. The local paper in a city where Boeing has big facilities examined interactions between Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA inspects the airplane maker for safety concerns, but it works in close collaboration with Boeing. And when it came to safety of 737 MAX planes, documents show the FAA told engineers to delegate wide responsibility to the company itself. Some engineers identified flaws in the safety analysis of a flight control system that is suspected in two crashes.

MARTIN: The investigation at The Seattle Times was done by Dominic Gates, an aerospace reporter for the paper. He joins us on the line from Seattle. Dominic, thanks for being here.

DOMINIC GATES: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: I think it's probably a good starting point to just have you explain how it can be that federal authorities outsource the safety investigations to a particular company - in this case, Boeing. I mean, how is that even allowed to happen?

GATES: Well, I have to tell you that that's the norm these days. The FAA, lacking funding and resources, has delegated more and more of the work of certification to industry. And in fact, Congress has told the FAA to do so. The FAA Reauthorization Act last year said that they should delegate as much as possible unless there's an identified safety reason not to. The onus is on the FAA to find a reason not to delegate. It is the normal way it works these days.

MARTIN: So what happened in this particular case? You say there was a failure of oversight.

GATES: Well, when the MAX - when the 737 MAX - the plane in question - was certified by the FAA, a document was produced called the system safety analysis. And that's one of the things that was delegated to Boeing. So Boeing engineers who are authorized to work for the FAA prepared that document. Now, I spoke with current and former engineers directly involved with the evaluations or familiar with the document. And they pointed to three - at least three major flaws in the system safety analysis.

MARTIN: And so the FAA had outsourced the safety assessment. The - Boeing comes back with the assessment, but there are flaws in - what? - the data, the reporting. And the FAA overlooks them.

GATES: Well, apparently, they were overlooked. They - actually, these three flaws Boeing is now scrambling to fix, the very ones that I wrote about in my story. Boeing is now preparing a software patch that will fix all three things that the engineers spoke to me about. We know that because last week, the FAA briefed people in Congress who are connected with aviation subcommittees about the details of what the fix is. And so they told us, oh, we're going to make sure that the system can't be triggered by just a single sensor, as, in fact, it was - a sensor that was faulty.

INSKEEP: One quick question about this, if I might. Your story says that you first told Boeing what you'd learned 11 days ago, which was before the second crash. Are you saying that you had informed Boeing of what engineers were saying that they didn't seem to know before the second crash in which many people died?

GATES: Yes, I sent details of everything I was going to say in the story on March 6. That was four days before the second crash, and Boeing was working on getting me answers. You know, I said, this is what the story is going to say. I need your input. I need you to comment on what I'm saying. And they were working on that when the second crash happened.

MARTIN: And you, at this point, knew - have you heard from Boeing?

GATES: They got back to me late Saturday, you know, the evening - the afternoon before the story published, and they didn't say much. They just said that they were unable to comment on the details because of the ongoing investigation. They did say there are some mischaracterizations - significant mischaracterizations in the description I'd given, but they didn't say what. And they haven't said anything since the story was published.

MARTIN: Dominic Gates, aerospace reporter for The Seattle Times. Obviously, we'll continue to follow this. Thank you so much for sharing your reporting with us. We appreciate it.

GATES: Thank you. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Small towns across the U.S. Midwest are flooding in a way that hasn't happened in decades.

INSKEEP: This all started as a late winter storm. Last week, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa experienced blizzard conditions, hurricane-like winds and heavy rain. And then came the flooding. Here is Nebraska state Senator Tom Briese.

TOM BRIESE: I think events like this can be the death knell of some small communities in our state. And yes, the future of these communities does hang in the balance after an event like this.

MARTIN: Bill Kelly is a reporter for our member station NET Radio. He's been reporting from some of the state's hardest-hit areas and joins us now. So Bill, you were out, I understand, in central Nebraska. What'd you see?

BILL KELLY, BYLINE: Now, the most striking thing is how difficult it is to get from point A and point B in the north and east central parts of the state. Many of the state highways and bridges have been damaged, washed out completely in some cases. What's usually maybe a half-hour drive from town to town in these counties can take up to two hours on back roads. And then once you get to towns like Dannebrog and St. Edward, where I visited, the streets are lined with household goods or goods from stores. They're out on the curb, they're muddy, they're waterlogged. And everybody in town has generators and pumps going. It's all hands on deck as far as volunteers in these communities.

MARTIN: How'd it get so bad so quickly? 'Cause it does seem like it turned fast.

KELLY: It did, and it shouldn't be too surprising that there are floods in Nebraska. We're used to floods in concentrated areas. This is a state with 80,000 miles of rivers. That's more rivers than any other state in the union. But all these creeks and rivers all lead to the Missouri and the Platte. What was unusual in this case is hundreds of them flooded all at once. First, there was this unprecedented event with record snowfalls out here. And then this bomb cyclone we've been hearing about added more snow with a blizzard, but on the eastern part of the state, also, heavy rains that melted two months' worth of snow all at once.

And the result was all of that melted snow entered those creeks and streams all at once, and those led down to the larger rivers. And the floodwaters have pretty much receded on the north end of the state. And now the real problem is concentrating down in the Missouri River. And they're going to be starting to feel those effects down in Missouri downstream.

MARTIN: How does recovery begin, because we heard that state senator say that this can be, in his words, a death knell to small towns.

KELLY: It's a real concern when there's this much damage all at once. We visited the town of St. Edward. It's about a town of 800 people that - like I said, the volunteer response has been great, but they've - every business in town - they have 31 stores and diners and offices along their Main Street. And then there were a couple of dozen homes that were badly damaged, and those may need to be demolished completely. That's a huge part of the housing stock in a town of only 800 people. And they are now going to be competing with the state resources.

MARTIN: And they're going to have to find new places to live. Bill Kelly of NET Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.