Alaska Airlines has grounded its fleet of Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft after part of the plane’s fuselage suffered a blowout shortly after takeoff.
The Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX took off from Portland International Airport (PDX) on January 5, 2024, just after 5pm local time but on reaching an altitude of just over 16,000 feet a window and its surrounding panel broke away from the aircraft.
It is understood that the section of the aircraft that separated from the fuselage was a plugged door (positioned between the wing and the rear cabin exit) that can be activated as an emergency exit during manufacturing if required by an airline.
As the Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX seating configuration does not meet the passenger number threshold that requires additional emergency exits the door was ‘plugged’.
Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 made an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon on January 5, after an issue with pressurization. A panel of the fuselage, including the panel’s window, popped off shortly after takeoff.— Massimo (@Rainmaker1973) January 6, 2024
To those passengers onboard the Alaska Airlines 737-9, the door would have appeared as simply a window but from the outside of the plane the optional emergency exit is visible.
Video shared on social media of the incident on Flight AS1282 showed a large section of the fuselage missing and oxygen masks activated due to the loss of pressure in the cabin.
The seat directly next to the plugged door was reportedly empty at the time of the blowout but part of the cushioning was clearly damaged by the drop in pressure within the cabin.
There were reports that passengers’ mobile phones, and even a child’s t-shirt, were sucked out of the cabin following the blowout.
The pilot subsequently initiated an emergency landing and returned safely back to PDX with all 171 passengers and six crew unharmed.
How Alaska Airlines, Boeing and the aviation authorities responded
Following the incident Alaska Airlines released a statement confirming that all 65 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft would be temporarily grounded and would only return to service after “completion of full maintenance and safety inspections”.
The airline said it expected inspections to be completed in the next few days and that it was working with Boeing to understand what happened.
The CEO of Alaska Airlines, Ben Minicucci said: “My heart goes out to those who were on this flight. I am so sorry for what you experienced. I am so grateful for the response of our pilots and flight attendants.”
#Ongoing Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, a B-737, made a successful emergency landing after an incident over Oregon (US). All 117 aboard were unharmed. Jet experienced a rapid decompression after losing a fuselage panel, on the left of the cabin. Updates when possible pic.twitter.com/66W89ivHG6— Air Safety #OTD by Francisco Cunha (@OnDisasters) January 6, 2024
Boeing also released a short comment confirming it was aware of the incident and was “working to gather more information”.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also confirmed that investigations into the incident had begun.
“Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 returned safely to @flyPDX around 5 p.m. local time on Friday, Jan. 5, after the crew reported a pressurization issue. The aircraft was traveling to @flyONT in California. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate,” the FAA wrote on X, formally known as Twitter.
On January 6, 2024, the NTSB said it had launched a ‘Go Team’ to investigate the event and specialist staff will arrive in Portland later in the day. NTSB Chair, Jenny Homendy, will also attend.
Passengers due to arrive at Ontario International Airport (ONT) were put on a replacement flight and reached their destination around six hours late.
The aircraft, registered as N704AL, was delivered by Boeing to Alaska Airlines in October 2023 and entered service on November 11, 2023.