Hardware Failure Detected on Alaska and United Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 Jets After Explosive Blowout

PORTLAND, Ore. — Both Alaska and United airlines have discovered issues with door plugs on their Boeing 737 Max 9 jets following a recent incident involving the fuselage on an Alaska flight. After thorough investigation, it was determined that “loose hardware” was responsible for the problem, with United also reporting loose bolts. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has pointed out that hardware failure could contribute to the dislodgement of the door plug, despite the presence of 12 “stops” in the design.

The NTSB has initiated a preliminary investigation into the incident that occurred on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, which was en route from Portland International Airport to Ontario. During a news conference on Monday night, Clint Crookshanks, an NTSB investigator, revealed that the door had shifted upward, causing the “12 stops” to become disengaged and resulting in the blowing out of the fuselage.

In response to the incident, both United and Alaska have grounded their fleets of Boeing 737 Max 9 jets and canceled numerous flights. The explosive decompression occurred when the aircraft had reached an altitude of about 16,000 feet, leading to the expulsion of the door plug from the plane’s side.

During a press briefing on Sunday night, it was revealed that the door plug, which had been the subject of a search, was found in a backyard by a Portland teacher. The teacher contacted the NTSB via email and provided two photos of the 63-pound yellow-green and white piece of fuselage. Additionally, two cellphones that had fallen from the aircraft were also discovered nearby.

One area of focus in the investigation is a warning light on Flight 1282 that had illuminated on at least three occasions in the past month, indicating a possible pressurization problem. Alaska Airlines had restricted the jet from transcontinental routes to ensure emergency landings were possible. A maintenance order had been placed for the plane due to the recurring light, but had not been carried out prior to Friday’s flight. Despite this, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy clarified that the light was part of a system that had operated as designed and did not appear to be related to the door plug blowout.

This is not the first time loose bolts have been identified on Boeing 737 Max 9 jets. Late last year, Boeing issued a warning to all airlines operating these planes to inspect for loose bolts in the rudder-control system following a maintenance check that revealed a missing nut. Boeing President and Chief Executive David Calhoun canceled the company’s annual leadership retreat and instead organized a “safety webcast” with the executive team.

A significant setback in the ongoing investigation is the loss of the cockpit voice recorder from the Friday night flight, which had been erased. Homendy expressed her frustration at the recording’s disappearance and shared instances when voice recorders had been overwritten in the past, emphasizing the need for longer retention of audio data. She called on the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress to implement a rule requiring audio storage for at least 25 hours.

Despite the incident, European airlines like Icelandair continue to operate Boeing 737 Max 9s that have a different configuration from those covered by the FAA order. It is worth noting that both the Max 9 and Max 8 were previously grounded after two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019, resulting in the deaths of 346 individuals. The Max’s design and a faulty sensor were determined to have contributed to the accidents.