Alaska Airlines grounds Boeing 737 Max 9 fleet after section blows out midair

An Alaska Airlines plane takes off from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on December 4, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. 

Mario Tama | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Alaska Airlines will temporarily ground its fleet of 65 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes after a section of the plane blew out midflight on Friday, forcing the crew to make an emergency landing.

“Each aircraft will be returned to service only after completion of full maintenance and safety inspections,” CEO Ben Minicucci said. “We anticipate all inspections will be completed in the next few days.”

Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 was heading to Ontario, California from Portland, Oregon, when it returned shortly after departure with 171 passengers and six crew aboard, the airline said.

Images and video of the new Boeing 737 Max 9 shared on social media showed a gaping hole on the side of the plane and passengers using oxygen masks. It landed back in Portland at 5:26 p.m. local time, according to Flightradar24. It had reached an altitude of 16,325 feet before returning to Portland.

The National Transportation Safety Board said “no serious injuries” were reported. It is sending a team to Portland to investigate, arriving later on Saturday. The Federal Aviation Administration also said it plans to investigate.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a Saturday social media post that he had been briefed on the “terrifying incident” and that the FAA plans to “take all appropriate steps going forward.”

“While this type of occurrence is rare, our flight crew was trained and prepared to safely manage the situation,” Alaska said.

The plane was certified in November, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware.

‘Explosive decompression’

Boeing also said it was aware of the incident but declined to comment further.

“We are working to gather more information and are in contact with our airline customer,” it said in a statement. “A Boeing technical team stands ready to support the investigation.”

The incident was described as “an explosive decompression at the window exit,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the labor union that represents Alaska’s cabin crew and flight attendants at United, Spirit and other carriers.

“Our Union strongly believes this decision [to ground the Max 9 fleet] is a prudent and necessary step toward ensuring the safety of all crew and passengers,” she said in a statement. “We will closely monitor the safety inspection process to ensure that aircraft are not returned to service until they are deemed safe for all.”

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