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What we know so far about the mid-air blowout on Alaska Airlines flight

Investigators are trying to determine what led to the terrifying incident aboard a Boeing 737 Max 9 jet Friday, when a piece of the aircraft blew out mid-flight, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing with a hole in the fuselage.

U.S. aviation authority temporarily grounds dozens of Boeing 737 Max 9 planes after door plug blew out

Two people wearing bright neon orange vest stand inside a passenger plane looking at a hole left behind after a panel ripped off.

Investigators are trying to determine what led to the terrifying incident aboard a Boeing 737 Max 9 jet Friday, when a piece of the aircraft blew out mid-flight forcing pilots to make an emergency landing with a hole in the fuselage.

Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 had 171 passengers and six crew on board and was flying at an altitude of more than 4,800 metres when a door plug — a panel in place of an optional exit door located near the rear of the aircraft — ripped off about 20 minutes into the Jan. 5 Friday evening flight from Portland, Ore., to Ontario, Calif.

Fortunately, the two seats next to the panel were vacant and there were no serious injuries, though several passengers did require medical attention after the pilots made an emergency landing at Portland International Airport.

By the next day, U.S. aviation authorities had grounded certain Max 9 planes in order for emergency safety inspections to be carried out.

It's still unclear what caused the door plug on the Alaska Airlines flight to blow out. But this is just the latest safety concern for Boeing's 737 Max series, following two deadly crashes involving Max 8 planes five years ago in Indonesia and Ethiopia, resulting in a worldwide grounding that lasted nearly two years.

Here's what you need to know about what's happening with the Boeing 737 Max 9 and the investigation into the frightening flight.

WATCH | Alaska Airlines flight makes emergency landing after door plug blowout:

FAA investigates after Boeing 737 cabin panel blows out at 16,000 feet

1 day ago

Duration 2:39

U.S. airline regulators have temporarily grounded 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes after a terrifying non-fatal incident aboard an Alaska Airlines flight. A cabin window blew out and depressurized the passenger cabin in mid-air, forcing an emergency landing.

Which planes were grounded?

Saturday, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive to the owners and operators of Boeing 737 Max 9 planes with similar mid-cabin door plugs.

The FAA said the directive affected 171 planes out of 218 Max 9s in operation worldwide.

In the U.S., only two airlines fly the 737 Max 9: Alaska Airlines, which operates 64 of the aircraft, and United Airlines with 79 Max 9s in its fleet.

Both airlines have been forced to cancel hundreds of flights.

On Monday, three days after the mid-air incident, Alaska Airlines said it was forced to cancel 141 flights, 20 per cent of its overall flights, while United's 221 cancellations amounted to eight per cent of its total scheduled flights for the day.

Why did the plane have a door plug?

Some larger Boeing 737s have emergency exits on fuselages behind the wings to meet a federal requirement that planes be designed so passengers can evacuate within 90 seconds even if half the exits are blocked.

The more passenger seats there are on a plane, the more exits are required.


Some carriers, including Indonesia's Lion Air and Corendon Dutch Airlines, have more than 200 seats on their Max 9s, so they must have extra emergency exits. However, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines configure their 737 Max 9s to have fewer than 180 seats, so the planes don't need the two mid-cabin exits to comply with U.S. evacuation rules.

On Alaska and United, those side exits near the back of the plane are replaced with a permanent plug the size of an exit door — approximately 1.2 metres in height and weighing 28.5-kilograms — which is fixed in place with four bolts.

Diagram of a Boeing 737-9 mid-cabin door plug and components (Source: Boeing) <a href="https://t.co/7qPF5MGAOX">pic.twitter.com/7qPF5MGAOX</a>

&mdash;@NTSB_Newsroom

As a result of the emergency inspections, United said Monday it found loose bolts on door plugs of Boeing 737 Max 9 jets grounded after the blowout on the Alaska Airlines flight.

"Since we began preliminary inspections on Saturday, we have found instances that appear to relate to installation issues in the door plug — for example, bolts that needed additional tightening," said Chicago-based United, which is the second largest airline in the world.

LISTEN | Passenger describes the moment part of the plane tore off:

As It Happens5:07Nurse describes the moment oxygen masks came down on Alaska Airlines flight

Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 made an emergency landing on Friday when a door-sized section on the side of the plane blew out. Nurse Vicki Kreps was on that flight with her two grandchildren — Brady, 7, and Brynlee, 5. Kreps spoke to As It Happens host Nil Köksal about the experience.

What do investigators know so far about Flight 1282?

Investigators are now in possession of the door plug after an Oregon man found it in his backyard Sunday night. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has sent the plug for examination at its Material Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

Alaska Airlines said the Max 9 involved in the incident was only delivered for use on Oct. 31, so it's not believed wear and tear is a factor.

Arthur Rosenberg, an aviation lawyer and former pilot, believes it may have been what he called a "manufacturing defect" that led to the door plug blowing out, as opposed to any sort of design defect.

"The bolts and the fasteners which were holding it in place failed for some reason," he said during an interview with CBC News Network, explaining the recovery of the plug and the parts remaining of the structure fuselage should allow investigators to determine what happened.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Monday evening it is uncertain if the recovered cabin panel that blew off the plane was properly attached or if bolts had been installed.

The NTSB said it will be able to determine if the bolts had been installed through testing.

NTSB has recovered the door plug from Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 Boeing 737-9 MAX. NTSB investigators are currently examining the door plug and will send it to the NTSB Materials Laboratory in Washington, DC for further examination. <a href="https://t.co/fqeemNeBPW">pic.twitter.com/fqeemNeBPW</a>

&mdash;@NTSB_Newsroom

NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy also told reporters investigators have "no indication whatsoever" that a previous issue with a cabin pressurization control system on the plane was related to the door plug blowing out.

The aircraft's auto-pressurization warning light went off on three occasions between Dec. 7 and Jan. 4, including one instance during a flight.

Alaska Airlines restricted the aircraft from long flights over water — it had been used to fly to Hawaii — but that was in line with the airline's internal maintenance policy not a federal aviation regulation, she said.

The flight data recorder has been examined, but the NTSB said Sunday the plane's cockpit voice recorder was "completely overwritten" after the flight landed safely Friday evening.

Homendy explained the data was not retrieved within two hours — when recording restarts, erasing previous data.

The U.S. requires cockpit voice recorders to log two hours of data, while in Europe, planes made after 2021 are required to log 25 hours of data.

The FAA proposed changing its requirements last spring, to mandate a 25-hour recording time for cockpit voice recorders in new aircraft, but noted at the time that the process could take years.

Since 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has called for 25-hour recording on planes manufactured since 2021.

The view of a large hole in the side of a passenger plane from inside the cabin.

Do Canadian airlines fly Max 9 planes?

No. According to The Canadian Press, airlines including Air Canada, WestJet, Flair Airlines and Lynx Air all say they fly the Max 8 jetliner, not the Max 9.

Transport Canada grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in the country in March 2019 following the two overseas crashes that left 346 people dead, but the order was lifted in January 2021.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Logan

Senior Writer

Nick Logan is a senior writer with CBCNews.ca based in Vancouver. He has worked as a multi-platform reporter and producer for more than a decade, with a particular focus on international news. You can reach out to him at nick.logan@cbc.ca.

    With files from The Canadian Press, Reuters and The Associated Press

    *****
    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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