WASHINGTON D.C.- A potential tragedy was narrowly avoided on Friday night (Jan 5, 2023) when a panel on the Boeing plane blew out at 16,000 feet during an Alaska Airlines (AS) flight AS1282, as indicated by an official from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Saturday night.
The blowout occurred when a panel known as a door plug detached from the plane. Fortunately, the seats adjacent to the affected area were unoccupied, and the altitude of the aircraft suggested that passengers were likely seated with their seatbelts fastened, as stated by NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy during a press conference on Saturday night.
NTSB Investigating Alaska Airlines Incident
The aftermath of the incident included detached headrests from two nearby passenger seats, the absence of the back of one seat, and clothing left in the affected area. The incident led to cabin depressurization and ensuing chaos, as described by Homendy.
“We are extremely fortunate that this did not escalate into a more tragic situation,” stated the NTSB chair. “No one was seated in 26A and 26B, where that door plug is located.”
The incident occurred approximately 10 minutes after the flight departed from its origin airport, Portland International, at 6:38 p.m. on Friday, with 171 passengers and six crew members on board.
Following the detachment of the panel, there was rapid decompression in the passenger cabin, resulting in a sizable hole on the port side of the aircraft, according to Homendy.
“For those on board, the incident must have been ‘genuinely terrifying,’ ” she remarked.
The 737 Max 9 was on its way to Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County, California, but had to turn back to Portland, making an emergency landing, as per authorities.
Homendy noted that the flight was “merely 10 minutes away from the airport when the door blew.”
Officials were still in the process of locating the door plug, suspected to have fallen to the ground in the Cedar Hills community, approximately 7 miles west of downtown Portland.
Major Mishap Averted
While no passengers suffered severe injuries, the chair mentioned that some individuals on board received treatment for minor injuries.
She expressed that the situation could have been much more severe if the incident had occurred at the plane’s cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, where passengers might be standing, walking, or using the restroom.
Homendy stated, “We could have ended up with something so much more tragic.” The blowout led to a “rapid decompression” of the cabin, a condition that can result in hypoxia—oxygen starvation—leading to dizziness, loss of consciousness, and even permanent brain damage, according to the FAA.
Video footage from inside the flight depicted oxygen masks dropping from the ceiling. The aircraft, at an altitude of 16,000 feet, safely descended to ground level on Friday.
An FAA official informed NBC affiliate WFLA of Tampa, Florida, last year that approximately 12,000 feet is the level at which passengers can be safe without supplemental oxygen.
The NTSB is overseeing the investigation, with the chair stating that the full inquiry would commence on Sunday. She emphasized refraining from speculating on the cause until more information becomes available.
All 737-9 Grounded
However, these 18 aircraft will continue to be grounded following an emergency airworthiness directive issued by the FAA, affecting an estimated 171 planes pending inspections with specific parameters, as indicated by Alaska on Saturday evening.
In a statement, Alaska mentioned that the 18 planes, which underwent comprehensive inspections during heavy maintenance checks, will remain out of service until their inspections align with the FAA directive. The grounding led to the cancellation of 160 flights, impacting approximately 23,000 passengers.
This temporary grounding has broader implications across the industry. United Airlines (UA), with 79 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft, temporarily suspended service for all of them and is working to accommodate affected customers on alternative planes.
The airline expressed its collaboration with the FAA to clarify the inspection process and the criteria for returning all MAX 9 aircraft to service, as stated in their released statement.
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