Alaska Airlines flight makes emergency landing after losing part of fuselage

An Alaska Airlines flight from Portland to Ontario had to make an emergency landing on Friday night after a part of the fuselage blew out, creating a hole in the cabin and sucking out passengers’ belongings.

The flight 1282, a Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft, took off from Portland International Airport at 5:07 p.m. local time with 171 passengers and six crew members on board. About six minutes later, when the plane was at about 16,000 feet, a loud bang was heard and a panel over an exit door came loose, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the cabin. The plane suddenly depressurized and oxygen masks were deployed.

Alaska Airlines flight makes emergency landing after losing part of fuselage
Alaska Airlines flight makes emergency landing after losing part of fuselage

Some passengers reported that their cell phones and other items were sucked out of the plane through the hole. One passenger, Evan Smith, told KATU-TV that a boy and his mother were sitting in the row where the panel blew out, and the child’s shirt was ripped off him and out of the plane. Smith said the mother had to hold the boy down to prevent him from being pulled away.

The pilot declared an emergency and turned back to Portland. The flight crew managed to land the plane safely at 5:27 p.m., about 20 minutes after takeoff. No one was seriously injured, but some passengers suffered minor cuts and bruises. The Port of Portland, which operates the airport, said the fire department treated some injuries at the scene and one person was taken for more treatment but wasn’t seriously hurt.

What caused the incident?

The cause of the incident is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has launched a team to Portland to examine the plane and interview the crew and passengers. The NTSB said the team consists of experts in structures, operations, and systems, and that Chair Jennifer Homendy will be the spokesperson on scene.

Alaska Airlines said in a statement that it is working with Boeing and regulators to understand what occurred and that it will share updates as more information is available. The airline also apologized to the passengers and crew for the incident and said it is providing them with support and assistance.

The incident has raised concerns about the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX 9, which is a variant of the 737 MAX that was grounded worldwide for nearly two years after two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people. The 737 MAX was cleared to fly again in November 2020 after Boeing made changes to its software and flight control system. Alaska Airlines received its first 737 MAX 9 in January 2021 and has 65 of them in its fleet, making up a fifth of its 314 planes.

What are the implications of the incident?

The incident has prompted federal officials to order the immediate grounding of some Boeing 737 MAX 9 jetliners until they are inspected for potential defects in the paneled-over exits. The required inspections take around four to eight hours per aircraft and affect about 171 airplanes worldwide.

Alaska Airlines said that of the 65 737 MAX 9 aircraft in its fleet, crews had inspected the paneled-over exits as part of recent maintenance work on 18 planes, and those were cleared to return to service on Saturday. Inspections for the remaining aircraft were expected to be completed in the coming days, the company said.

The incident has also disrupted the flight schedules of Alaska Airlines and other carriers that operate the 737 MAX 9, such as United Airlines. Alaska Airlines said it canceled more than 100 flights, or 15% of its Saturday schedule, by midday, according to FlightAware. United Airlines said the plane inspections would result in about 60 cancellations.

The incident has also shaken the confidence of some passengers and the public in the 737 MAX, which has been plagued by technical issues and controversies since its introduction in 2017. Some passengers on the flight 1282 said they were unaware that they were flying on a 737 MAX 9 and that they would have avoided it if they had known. Some aviation experts and analysts said the incident could damage Boeing’s reputation and market share, especially as the aviation industry is trying to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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