Photo: strawberr.vy/TikTok

Harrowing Video Shows Alaska Airlines Passengers After Plane Loses Door Plug In Air

Airports + Flying
by Matador Creators Jan 10, 2024

On January 5, an Alaska Airlines flight from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, had a panel blow off the plane at 16,000 feet as it was ascending. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured during the incident, though the force was strong enough to dislodge headrests and seatbacks, even flinging open the cockpit door. Passenger video during the emergency landing is harrowing, showing oxygen masks deployed and a gaping hole as the plane descended shortly after taking off.

@strawberr.vy Girls’ trip turned into emergency landing trip… #alaska #alaskaair ♬ original sound – vy 🍓

The piece that flew off was a door plug that takes the place of an emergency exit door required for some planes based on capacity. It was subsequently recovered in a Portland resident’s backyard, and a passenger’s phone (remarkably unharmed after falling from 16,000 feet) were found nearby. The incident prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to ground the planes, canceling hundreds of flights between Alaska and United Airlines, which are the only domestic airlines that use the Boeing 737 Max 9 (the more popular Max 8 was not impacted).

It’s the latest problem to occur in years of safety issues plaguing the Boeing 737 Max planes, both the 9 like in this case and the smaller 8, since the models made their first commercial flights in 2017. Max jets crashed and killed hundreds of people in 2018 and 2019, grounding the planes for more than a year.

United has the largest 737 Max 9 fleet in the country with 79 planes. It conducted safety reviews after the Alaska incident and found loose bolts on door plugs like the one that fell off.

Boeing has directed airlines to conduct inspections on their Max 9 fleets, amplifying the focus on safety and maintenance protocols. This incident not only draws attention to specific installation concerns but also renews scrutiny on Boeing, which has been navigating quality challenges while boosting aircraft production.

Further investigations will involve a thorough analysis of the dislodged door plug, weighing 63 pounds and measuring 26 inches by 48 inches, discovered in a Portland school teacher’s backyard. NTSB investigators will scrutinize this piece to unravel the circumstances surrounding its detachment and assess any potential design or maintenance implications. The design of the door plug has been used for years in Boeing planes without prior issue.

Should you fly in Boeing Max planes?

All Boeing 737 Max 9 planes are grounded by the FAA as of January 10, and there’s no set timeline for when they will be in the air again. According to CNN, each plane will need to pass inspection before being put back into use. International carriers using Max 9 planes with a similar door plug design have also grounded the planes until further inspection.

Predictably, having hundreds of planes out of service has led to many cancellations across United and Alaska. Both carriers are offering full refunds to anyone who chooses not to travel on a Max 9 jet: Alaska through January 20, and United through January 10. While the Max 9 planes are grounded, people on social media have been wondering whether it’s a good idea to fly on any of the Boeing Max planes at all after the repeated safety issues and reports of loose bolts from both Alaska and United.

If you’d rather avoid the planes altogether, keep in mind that it will limit some routes and airlines. Passengers can see what type of plane their flight is on through their booking information on their ticket or on the airline app or website. In a sign of the current mood surrounding the Max planes, there’s also a dedicated website that tells you if your flight uses the plane:

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