January 6, 2024

US officials order grounding of Boeing 737 Max 9 jetliners after a plane suffers a blowout

Updated January 7, 2024 — 1.19amfirst published January 6, 2024 — 5.00pm
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Alaska Airlines has grounded dozens of Boeing 737 MAX-9 jets for safety checks after a cabin panel blowout forced a passenger plane to make an emergency landing shortly after take-off in Portland, Oregon.

CEO Ben Minicucci said in a statement that all 65 of the airline’s Boeing 737 MAX-9 planes would be grounded for precautionary maintenance and safety inspections, which he expected to be completed in the “next few days”.

Flight 1282 had reached 16,000 feet bound for Ontario, California, before returning to Portland, where it landed safely at 5.26pm on Friday with 174 passengers and six crew, according to the airline and FlightRadar24.

Social media posts also showed oxygen masks deployed and a portion of the aircraft’s side wall – believed to be a panel covering an optional cabin exit door – missing.

Passenger photos appeared to show that the panel had been torn away, leaving a door-shaped gap.

The optional exit doors are typically “plugged” or deactivated on Alaska Airlines jets.

Alaska Airlines has grounded its entire Boeing 747 MAX fleet. Credit: Bloomberg

Each of the aircraft will be returned to service after full maintenance and safety inspections, which Minicucci said the airline anticipated completing within days.

Alaska Airlines provided no information about whether anyone was injured or the possible cause.


The plane was diverted about six minutes after taking off at 5.07pm on Friday, local time (Saturday AEDT), according to flight tracking data from the FlightAware website. It landed at 5.26pm.

The pilot told Portland air traffic controllers the plane had an emergency, was depressurised and needed to return to the airport, according to a recording made by the website LiveATC.net.

A passenger sent KATU-TV a photo showing a gaping hole in the side of the plane next to passenger seats.

“Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, experienced an incident this evening soon after departure,” the company said in an earlier emailed statement.

“The aircraft landed safely back at Portland International Airport with 174 guests and 6 crew members.

“While this type of occurrence is rare, our flight crew was trained and prepared to safely manage the situation.”

The company said it would share more information when it became available.

The plane climbed as high as 16,000 feet (4876 metres), then began descending, according to data on the flight tracking website FlightAware.

The Boeing 737 MAX-9 rolled off the assembly line and received its certification just two months ago, according to online FAA records.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that it was investigating an event on the flight and would post updates when they were available.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said the crew reported a pressurisation issue, and said it would investigate.

“While this type of occurrence is rare, our flight crew was trained and prepared to safely manage the situation,” the airline said in a statement. “We are investigating what happened and will share more information as it becomes available.”

Boeing said in a statement that it was looking into the incident.

“We are aware of the incident involving Alaska Airlines Flight 1282,” the company said in a statement. “We are working to gather more information and are in contact with our airline customer. A Boeing technical team stands ready to support the investigation.”

“Whenever you have a rapid decompression such as this, it’s a major safety event,” said Anthony Brickhouse, an air safety expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

“I can’t imagine what these passengers experienced. It would have been loud. The wind would be rushing through that cabin. It was a probably pretty violent situation and definitely a scary situation.”

The incident shows the importance of passengers keeping their seatbelts buckled while seated in a plane, even if the fasten seatbelt light is off, Brickhouse said, noting that the oxygen mask system appeared to have functioned properly.

“This is a very, very serious situation and it could have been a lot worse,” he said. “If someone had been sitting in that seat, and they weren’t buckled in, it would have been a different situation.”

Last week, Boeing said it was urging airlines to inspect all MAX planes for a possible loose bolt in the rudder control system.

The FAA said it was closely monitoring Boeing 737 MAX inspections and would consider additional action based on any further discovery of loose or missing hardware.

The 737 MAX was grounded for 20 months worldwide after two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 people in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Boeing is awaiting certification of its smaller 737 MAX 7 and larger MAX 10.

The FAA has carefully scrutinised the MAX for years. The FAA in 2021 said it was tracking all 737 MAX planes using satellite data.

AP, Reuters

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