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FBI assisting in criminal probe into how Boeing's 737 Max planes were certified to fly

FBI to assist in Boeing investigation

The FBI is assisting in a criminal investigation into how Boeing's 737 Max was certified to fly, a U.S. official tells CBS News. The company has been under scrutiny in wake of two deadly plane crashes involving its latest aircraft. Wednesday's development, first reported by the Seattle Times, comes after federal agents told employees at the Federal Aviation Administration's Seattle office to retain documents relating to the approval process for the 737 Max.

Boeing's pilot training was under scrutiny Monday as investigators analyzed data from the Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 jet that crashed outside Nairobi, killing 157 people. U.S. pilots were initially given 56 minutes of training, on an iPad, about the differences between the new Boeing Max planes brought into service in 2017, and the older 737s.

That information came as officials in Ethiopia said the flight data recorder — one of the doomed Flight 302 jet's black boxes — showed "clear similarities" to the crash of a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max 8 in Indonesia last October.

That assessment was confirmed by the French accident investigation agency BEA, which opened the black boxes and downloaded the data to hand over to the Ethiopian team leading the probe.

"During the verification process of the FDR (flight data recorder) data, clear similarities were noted by the investigation team between Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610, which will be the subject of further study during the investigation," the BEA said Monday.

Lion Air plane malfunctioned a day before deadly crash

CBS News' Kris Van Cleave reported satellite data also showed very similar flight patterns for the Ethiopian and Lion Air flights.

jack screw, which helps to lower or raise the nose of the plane, was also recovered at both of the crash sites. When found, the screws were set in a position to put the plane into a dive.

French investigators downloaded all the data from the Ethiopian jet's black boxes over the weekend and handed it over to Ethiopian investigators who are running the probe into the crash.

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Boeing 737 Max family of planes are shown in a photo provided by the company. Boeing

The two fatal crashes involving the Max, just five months apart, have raised questions about the relationship between the FAA and Boeing.

"We are bending over too much to the corporate interests and not enough to the public interest in the areas of safety," said Rep. Steve Cohen.

Cohen wants hearings on a process he worries has gotten too cozy. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress approved a system that allows manufactures like Boeing to largely self-certify aircraft, including their safety systems. A Senate panel will convene next week on aviation safety.

Transportation chief Elaine Chao asks for audit of Boeing 737 Max 8 certification