Door plug found after “explosive decompression” of Boeing Max 9

Jan 8, 2024, 9:09 AM | Updated: 11:03 am

In this National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) handout photo, plastic covers the exterior of t...

In this National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) handout photo, plastic covers the exterior of the fuselage plug area of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 Boeing 737 Max 9 on Jan. 7, 2024 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo: NTSB via Getty Images)

(Photo: NTSB via Getty Images)

All Boeing 737 Max-9s remain grounded this morning after an explosive decompression forced an Alaska flight into an emergency landing in Portland on Friday.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is already sending pieces of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max-9 back to its labs in Washington, DC, to determine the cause.

More news: FAA grounds about 170 Boeing 737-9 Max aircraft after Portland flight blowout

The plane had to make an emergency landing in Portland after just minutes in the air. A door plug near the back of the plane blew out at 16,000 feet.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said no one was sitting in Row 26 when the door plug flew off. Pieces of the seats flew out of the plane, and there was considerable damage to the inside of the plane. The decompression was so severe that it impacted the cockpit.

“The cockpit door flew open, hit the lavatory door, and that door lavatory door got stuck,” Homendy said.

Different NTSB teams are investigating this. Some are looking at the plane. Some are looking at the components. Some are looking at the actions of the flight crew.

“They identified the components that they want to send back to our lab for further evaluation, and it’s really all the fittings and some additional components that they want to send back to the lab and look under the microscope to take a closer look,” Homendy said.

The 63-pound door plug was found in a backyard late Sunday. It was along the flight path in southwest Portland.

And just for clarification about the door plug and what it is.

“The correct term here is really a plug,” Homendy described.  “It is not a door because it’s not usable. You can call it a door plug or a plug, but it’s not a door.”

All Boeing Max fuselages are manufactured in Kansas and are built with the maximum number of emergency exits or doors based on the maximum number of seats the airlines want for each plane in order to make sure that everyone can get out during an emergency.

If the plane is configured for less than 180 seats, like the Alaska and United versions are, those extra emergency exits or doors are not installed. Door plugs are installed to fill that space.

As for total damage to the plane, Homendy said it remained localized to the door plug.

“There is no structural damage to the aircraft,” Homendy said. “I want to repeat, no structural damage to the aircraft. That damage on the inside that’s just interior paneling trim. It has nothing to do with the structure of the aircraft and airframe itself.”

More news: Major disruption ahead for Sound Transit riders

And one more piece of the puzzle, the plane’s pressurization alarms in the cockpit activated on three previous flights. The plane and the alarms were tested and inspected.

But there was enough of a concern that this plane lost its ETOPS certification, which meant it couldn’t fly over water. But there is nothing yet to say those alarms are related to this decompression.

And this plane was just delivered Oct. 21.

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Door plug found after “explosive decompression” of Boeing Max 9