[BREAKING NEWS] Four bolts holding a door latch on a Boeing 737 Max 9 were missing when Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 exploded last month, National Transportation Safety Board investigators said Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board's bombshell new finding comes a month and a day after the Jan. 5 incident, which prompted the emergency grounding of all Max 9 planes in the U.S. for 19 days and prompted a re-inspection of Boeing following the death. Maximum 8 accidents in 2018 and 2019.
In their 19-page preliminary report released Tuesday, NTSB investigators included observations from a laboratory dissection of the door plug of Alaska 1282, which crashed 16,000 feet into an Oregon backyard.
“Overall, the damage patterns observed around the holes associated with the vertical movement arrester bolts and upper guide track bolts on the upper guide mounts, hinge mounts, and recovered rear lower hinge guide mounts indicated the absence of contact damage or deformation of the four bolts. The MED plug does not stop the upward movement of the MED plug before it moves upward from the stop pads,” the report said, referring to the mid-exit door.
The flight returned safely to Portland International Airport with 6 crew and 171 passengers on board. No one was seriously injured in the incident.
The findings corroborate reports from two US airlines operating the Max 9. Alaska Airlines and United Airlines both said last month that inspections of their fleets had revealed loose bolts.
“It's a somewhat complicated issue with a lot of parts,” NTSB Chairman Jennifer Homandy told CNN in the week before the preliminary report was released. Even so, Homandy insisted he “would have no problem getting the Max 9 up and flying tomorrow.”
The report comes as Boeing's quality control is under intense scrutiny. During a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday, FAA Administrator Mike Whittaker said two dozen FAA inspectors are at Boeing's Renton, Washington plant as part of the agency's audit.
Late Sunday, Boeing revealed it had to “rework” improper holes found on 50 incomplete 737 Max planes still on the production line, causing a slowdown in deliveries.
Later, Boeing fuselage contractor Spirit Aerosystems said it caused the problem.
The preliminary report did not blame Boeing or find probable cause, which is typically included in the NTSB's final report, which can take a year or more.
The report also describes the shock of the blast that took passengers and crew by surprise.
At about 16,000 feet while climbing, the captain said he heard a loud boom. “The flight crew said their ears were popping, and the captain said his head was pushed into the heads-up display (HUD), his headset was pushed up and almost fell off his head. FO [first officer] He said his headset was completely removed as the air rushed out of the flight deck.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
[ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS]
The National Transportation Safety Board will issue its initial report Tuesday at 2 p.m. on the explosion last month of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss told CNN.
On January 5 Alaska Flight 1282, a door plug on the side of the plane exploded. When airplane seats are arranged in a certain way, the door plug fills a space in the trunk that contains the emergency exit door. The incident led the Federal Aviation Administration to ground Boeing 737 Max 9s in the United States for 19 days and to announce major changes to the way it oversees production of commercial aircraft.
CNN reports that NTSB investigators are closely examining the door latch and whether the critical bolts holding it in place were properly installed when the incident occurred.
NTSB preliminary reports do not determine the cause of the incidents but can reveal key facts about what happened.
Meanwhile, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration told House lawmakers on Tuesday that his agency is “vigorously investigating” Boeing after last month's door plug explosion.
“Moving forward, we will have more boots on the ground by scrutinizing and monitoring production and manufacturing operations,” FAA Administrator Mike Whittaker said in prepared remarks.
The Federal Aviation Administration failed to properly investigate Boeing after two fatal crashes of the 737 Max four years ago that killed 346 people, the agency's new head said.
“As you mentioned I was not there then. I think I would say in retrospect, given what happened to the plug door, it's hard to call that oversight adequate,” Whittaker told Congress on Tuesday. “So we're looking at that process and what additional steps need to be taken to ensure that oversight is adequate.”
Whittaker took office late last year and was not at the FAA in 2018 and 2019 at the time of those accidents. He was previously the second-ranking FAA officer from 2013 to 2016. Whittaker appeared before the House Aviation Subcommittee, his first congressional testimony since being confirmed three months ago.
After a hole opened up in the side of a 737 Max 9 last month, his company is now overhauling how it inspects aircraft manufacturers, including Boeing.
“I certainly agree that the current system is not working because it is not providing safe flight,” Whittaker said. “We have to make some changes in that. I think we have to look at culture as well.
About two dozen Federal Aviation Administration inspectors currently oversee Boeing product lines, FAA Administrator Mike Whittaker told Congress.
Another half-dozen inspectors are currently based at the facilities of Spirit Aerosystems, the main Boeing supplier that makes most of the 737 MAX fuselage.
The inspectors are part of an FAA oversight of Boeing's manufacturing that Whittaker described Tuesday as “audit-plus.” Agency oversight of manufacturers such as Boeing has historically focused on monitoring compliance through documentation. On Monday, a senior FAA official said the agency is now reimagining its oversight of manufacturers.
Whittaker said he doesn't have the number of inspectors the FAA will need in the long term, but he knows the agency will need more inspectors.
On Monday, the FAA told reporters that Boeing had begun developing a plan to “re-imagine surveillance,” with agency inspectors conducting “nose-to-tail, wing-to-wingtip” inspections of Boeing's 737 Max assembly line in Renton, Washington.
“Boeing employees are encouraged to use our FAA hotline to report any safety concerns,” Whittaker will tell lawmakers. “We will consider the full extent of our enforcement authority to ensure that Boeing is held accountable for any non-compliance.”