FAA orders temporary grounding of Boeing 737 Max 9 after a piece of Alaska Airline plane wall detached midair

The Federal Aviation Administration said Saturday it will temporarily ground some Boeing 737 Max 9 airplanes used by U.S. airlines after a panel appeared to have detached from an Alaska Airlines flight midair.

The FAA said it will also ground 737 Max 9 planes that operate in U.S. territory. In total, the order will affect about 171 of the airplanes out of 218 worldwide, the FAA said.

“The FAA is requiring immediate inspections of certain Boeing 737 Max 9 planes before they can return to flight,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said. “Safety will continue to drive our decision-making as we assist the [National Transportation Safety Board’s] investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282.”

No serious injuries were reported on the flight, which turned back and landed safely at Portland International Airport on Friday evening.

The FAA said in a directive that the decision to ground all 737 Max 9 planes stems from “a report of an in-flight departure of a mid cabin doorplug, which resulted in a rapid decompression of the airplane,” referring to the Alaska Airlines incident.

The agency added that it is issuing this directive because of unsafe conditions that could potentially occur in a similar scenario in another aircraft of the same model, including “injury to passengers and crew, the door impacting the airplane, and/or loss of control of the airplane.”

Boeing said it supports the FAA’s decision.

“Safety is our top priority and we deeply regret the impact this event has had on our customers and their passengers,” Boeing said in a statement. “We agree with and fully support the FAA’s decision to require immediate inspections of 737-9 airplanes with the same configuration as the affected airplane.”

A Boeing technical team is supporting the NTSB’s investigation, the statement read.

“We will remain in close contact with our regulator and customers,” Boeing said.

airline mishap
Photo of part of a plane missing. The midair incident prompted the Alaska Airlines flight to California to make an emergency landing in Portland, Ore., on Friday.Courtesy Kyle Rinker

Alaska Airline temporarily grounded all 65 of its 737 Max 9 aircraft Saturday for maintenance and safety inspections. It said a quarter of the inspections were completed “with no concerning findings” and so far 18 aircraft were cleared to return to service on Saturday. The remaining aircraft inspections are expected to be completed in the next few days.

United temporarily suspended service on select Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft to conduct an inspection. The removal is expected to cause about 60 cancellations.

Panama’s Copa Airlines also said it was complying with the order and temporarily suspending flights on the planes.

‘A loud bang’

Flight 1282 was bound for Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County, California, but turned back to Portland, Oregon, shortly after takeoff.

The FAA said the plane returned to the airport after “the crew reported a pressurization issue.”

According to FlightAware, an air travel tracking site, the flight took off from Portland at 5:07 p.m. and landed back at Portland at 5:27 p.m.

It’s not clear how or when the panel became separated from the passenger jet.

The plane was carrying 174 passengers and six crew members, according to Alaska Airlines, which initially described what happened as an “incident.” A photo from a passenger on board showed an entire panel missing from a side of the fuselage, next to a row of seats.

People sit on a plane next to a missing window and portion of a side wall of an Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, in Portland, Oregon
People sit on a plane next to a missing window and portion of a side wall of an Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, which had been bound for Ontario, California and suffered depressurization soon after departing, in Portland, Ore., on Jan 5, 2024.Instagram/@strawberrvy via Reuters

Kyle Rinker posted a photo from inside the plane on the social media platform X, along with the caption, “When the wall of the plane just breaks off mid flight.”

A passenger on the plane who gave her name only as Elizabeth told NBC affiliate KGW of Portland, Oregon, that the incident happened about 20 minutes after departing Portland’s airport.

“Everything was going fine until we just heard like a loud bang! Or like a boom,” she said. “And I look up, and the air masks are, like, out, popped down.”

“And I looked to my left, and there’s just this huge gaping hole, on the left side where the window is,” she told the station in a phone interview. She said the sound of the wind was very loud.

She said everyone had their seat belts on and people stayed calm, she said.

Alaska said in a statement, “The safety of our guests and employees is always our primary priority, so while this type of occurrence is rare, our flight crew was trained and prepared to safely manage the situation.”

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said on X Saturday morning that he has “been briefed on last night’s incident and remain[s] in close contact with FAA on the response.”