DOJ opens criminal investigation into Alaska Airlines 737 plane blowout, report says

Mar 10, 2024, 10:35 AM | Updated: 10:36 am

Image: A portion of the Boeing aircraft that housed Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 burst open while th...

A portion of the Boeing aircraft that housed Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 burst open while the plane was in the air Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. (Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched a criminal investigation into the Boeing jetliner blowout that left a gaping hole on an Alaska Airlines plane this January, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

Citing documents and people familiar with the matter, the newspaper said investigators have contacted some passengers and crew — including pilots and flight attendants — who were on the Jan. 5 flight.

Panel blows off Alaska Airlines flight

The Boeing plane used by Alaska Airlines suffered the blowout seven minutes after takeoff from Portland, Oregon, forcing the pilots to make an emergency landing. Boeing has been under increased scrutiny since the incident, when a panel that plugged a space left for an extra emergency door blew off a Max 9 jet. There were no serious injuries.

“In an event like this, it’s normal for the DOJ to be conducting an investigation,” Alaska Airlines said in a prepared statement. “We are fully cooperating and do not believe we are a target of the investigation.”

Boeing declined to comment. The DOJ did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The latest from the company: Boeing negotiations with machinists expected to be contentious

The Journal reported that the investigation would assist the Department’s review of whether Boeing complied with a previous settlement that resolved a federal investigation into the safety of its 737 Max aircraft following two deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019.

In 2021, Boeing had agreed to pay $2.5 billion, including a $244 million fine, to settle an investigation into the crashes of flights operated by Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines. The company also blamed two employees for deceiving regulators about flaws in the flight-control system.

Boeing acknowledges it can’t find work records

Boeing has acknowledged in a letter to Congress that it cannot find records for work done on the door panel of the Alaska Airlines plane.

“We have looked extensively and have not found any such documentation,” Ziad Ojakli, Boeing executive vice president and chief government lobbyist, wrote to Sen. Maria Cantwell on Friday.

The company said its “working hypothesis” was that the records about the panel’s removal and reinstallation on the 737 MAX final assembly line in Renton, Washington, were never created, even though Boeing’s systems required it.

The letter, reported earlier by The Seattle Times, followed a contentious Senate committee hearing Wednesday in which Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) argued over whether the company had cooperated with investigators.

The safety board’s chair, Jennifer Homendy, testified that for two months Boeing repeatedly refused to identify employees who work on door panels on Boeing 737s and failed to provide documentation about a repair job that included removing and reinstalling the door panel.

“It’s absurd that two months later we don’t have that,” Homendy said.

“Without that information, that raises concerns about quality assurance, quality management, safety management systems” at Boeing.

More from the company: ‘Speak up’: Boeing executive wants employees, suppliers to discuss safety

Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, demanded a response from Boeing within 48 hours.

Shortly after the Senate hearing, Boeing said it had given the NTSB the names of all employees who work on 737 doors — and had previously shared some of them with investigators.

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DOJ opens criminal investigation into Alaska Airlines 737 plane blowout, report says