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Boeing responds to damning NTSB report which ties plane door plug blowout to missing bolts

Boeing has responded to a damning National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) preliminary report which found that four critical bolts were missing from a door plug that blew out on a Boeing 737 Max 9 plane last month, sparking a midair emergency.

“Whatever final conclusions are reached, Boeing is accountable for what happened. An event like this must not happen on an airplane that leaves our factory,” CEO Dave Calhoun said in a statement following the release of the report on Tuesday.

“We simply must do better for our customers and their passengers.”

The company said it is implementing a comprehensive plan to strengthen the quality of its aircraft and boost the confidence of its stakeholders following the incident.

It had previously been reported that the plane’s door plug – a panel of the fuselage near the rear of the aircraft – had left the plane’s manufacturing plant without the critical bolts needed to keep it in place.

FILE - This photo released by the National Transportation Safety Board shows the door plug from Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on 8 January 2024, in Portland, Oregon. Investigators say bolts that helped secure the panel on the Boeing jetliner were missing before the panel blew off the plane in midflight last month. The National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary report Tuesday, Feb. 6 into the Jan. 5 accident. The loss of the panel forced pilots of the Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 jet to make a harrowing emergency landing. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP, file) (National Transportation Safety Board,)

In the NTSB’s report, investigators found that four key bolts were missing from the plane. These bolts are usually in place to prevent the door plug’s upward movement, the NTSB said.

According to the report, the damage to the aircraft was consistent with the door plug moving upward, outward and being ejected from the aircraft. The NTSB previously said that all 12 stop fittings had disengaged.

“Overall, the observed damage patterns and absence of contact damage or deformation around holes associated with the vertical movement arrestor bolts and upper guide track bolts in the upper guide fittings, hinge fittings, and recovered aft lower hinge guide fitting indicate that four bolts that prevent upward movement of the MED plug were missing before the MED plug moved upward off the stop pads,” the NTSB said.

The report did not say who was to blame for the faulty door plug, which is manufactured by Spirit AeroSystems.

Interviews with Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems personnel will be scheduled at a later date, the report said.

However, experts previously told The Independent that the issue might have stemmed from the factory.

This image from video provided by Elizabeth Le shows passengers near the damage on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9, Flight 1282, which was forced to return to Portland International Airport on Friday 5 January 2024. (Elizabeth Le via AP) (Elizabeth Le)
This image from video provided by Elizabeth Le shows passengers near the damage on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9, Flight 1282, which was forced to return to Portland International Airport on Friday 5 January 2024. (Elizabeth Le via AP) (Elizabeth Le)

Just this week, a Boeing official said the company was made aware of 50 planes that needed to be reworked after Spirit Aerosystems identified misdrilled holes on some fuselages, according to Reuters.

Flight 1282, operated by Alaska Airlines, had just departed Portland for Ontario, California, on 5 January when the plug blowout occurred at 16,000 feet.

Four minors and three lap children were among the 171 passengers on board the flight, in addition to four flight attendants and two captains.

Luckily, no one had been seated next to the plug, which can sometimes double as an emergency exit.

Several passengers sustained minor injuries and were treated at the scene.

The blowout resulted in rapid depressurization, causing oxygen masks to fall from the vents and debris from the plane to be ejected, including two iPhones.

The plane made an emergency landing in Portland.

The door plug was later found in a school teacher’s backyard, while the two phones were found in streets close to where the incident happened.

Passengers on board the flight described the chaos on the aircraft as “terrifying” with some even reportedly calling their families to say what they thought would be a final goodbye.

National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy speaks to the media about the investigation on Alaska Airlines flight 1282 in Portland, Oregon Saturday 6 January 2024. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer) (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy speaks to the media about the investigation on Alaska Airlines flight 1282 in Portland, Oregon Saturday 6 January 2024. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer) (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

A group of passengers who sued Boeing following the incident told their attorney, Daniel Laurence, that the event left them “shocked, terrorized and confused, thrust into a walking nightmare, hoping they would live long enough to walk the earth again”.

Alaska Airlines offered all passengers on board $1,500 in compensation, in addition to a refund for their flight and mental health services.

Jennifer Homendy, chair of the NTSB said that the incident could have been catastrophic had it happened higher than 16,000 feet in the sky.

Following the event, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines both said they found loose bolts on several models of the aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration forced the grounding of all Boeing Max 9s until thorough inspections could be completed, causing hundreds of flights to be cancelled. The model only began flying again at the end of last month.

Still, the FAA halted the continued manufacturing of the plane until it can examine Boeing’s practices.

Experts said that they expect the NTSB’s investigation, which is still ongoing, will determine the quality assurance for both Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems. That would mean figuring out if employees were completing their tasks per the detailed instructions assigned to them.