The door of an Alaska Airlines plane that separated from the fuselage shortly after takeoff on Friday has been found, American aviation authorities said. This should help to understand the cause of this very rare incident, which led to the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX 9 and the cancellation of dozens of flights around the world.
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“I'm pleased to announce that we have located the door panel,” Jennifer Homendy, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said at a press conference. She dispatched a team to investigate the reasons behind the incident.
A teacher recovered the sign from his backyard in Portland, Oregon. “He took a photo. In the photos I can only see the outside of the door panel, the white parts. We don't see anything else, but we will look for it and start analyzing it,” said the head of the NTSB.
According to the NTSB, shortly after an Alaska Airlines flight took off from Portland International Airport, northwest Oregon, at around 6:30 p.m. Friday (02:30 GMT Saturday), a door opened mid-flight and separated from the fuselage.
It is a door blocked and obscured by a partition, revealing only a porthole view, according to the NTSB, a configuration that Boeing offers to customers upon request. According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidance posted on its website, “the center door is blocked” on these models.
The aircraft, carrying 171 passengers and 6 crew, was at an altitude of nearly 16,000 feet (5,000 m) at the time. The aircraft quickly returned to Portland and the incident caused only minor injuries.
“It was really brutal. As soon as we got up, the front of the window came off,” said a passenger on the flight, Kyle Rinker, on the American broadcaster CNN.
According to the NTSB, no one was sitting in the two seats next to the partition that was blown away. But according to passengers quoted by Portland newspaper The Oregonian, a teenager sitting in the row had his shirt ripped off by decompression, resulting in minor injuries.
After this very rare malfunction, the FAA requested “immediate inspections of certain Boeing 737 MAX 9s before they can resume flight,” affecting 171 aircraft worldwide, it specified on X (ex-Twitter).
The FAA is requiring immediate inspections of certain Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft before they can fly again.
– The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) January 6, 2024
As a result, airlines and safety authorities around the world have grounded some Boeing 737 MAX 9s pending inspection and dozens of flights have been canceled.
United Airlines, which has the largest 737-9 fleet in the world, told AFP that it would ground 46 aircraft, 33 of which had already been inspected. Alaska Airlines clarified on Saturday
The companies Aeromexico, Copa Airlines – which operates 21 of the planes – and Turkish Airlines – which owns five – have also announced they are grounding their planes for inspections.
On the other hand, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) stated that no operator in Europe uses the 737 MAX 9 with the technical options in question.
“We are very, very happy that this did not end more tragically,” the president of the NTSB told the press, while US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg spoke of a “horrifying incident” on X.
Boeing's CEO called a safety meeting for Tuesday at the manufacturer's factory in Washington state (northwest).
The incident is a new episode in a grim series for the 737 MAX, Boeing's flagship aircraft, which has experienced a series of technical problems and two crashes in recent years: the latter claimed 346 lives in October 2018 and March 2019. The 737 MAX was grounded for 20 months and the introduction of changes to the on-board control system.
Most recently, Boeing had to slow deliveries due to problems with the fuselage, particularly the aircraft's rear bulkhead.
At the end of December, the manufacturer had delivered more than 1,370 copies of the 737 MAX and the order backlog exceeded 4,000 units.