Alaska Airlines blowout: 197 planes grounded after dramatic mid-air incident on new

A total of 197 Boeing planes worldwide have been temporarily grounded after a chunk of fuselage dramatically blew out of a brand-new passenger jet in mid-air. 

US regulators say immediate inspections are needed after an Alaska Airlines plane suffered a cabin emergency shortly after take-off on Friday.

Photos showed a gaping hole in the side of the Boeing 737-9 MAX – and although the jet landed safely with more than 170 passengers and six crew in Oregon, phones and a boy’s shirt were sucked out of the plane.

A number of airlines have now temporarily suspended multiple aircraft while the issue is investigated.

United Airlines and Alaska Airlines have grounded 79 and 65 planes respectively, and made dozens of cancellations. They say it could be days until grounded planes return to service.

Latin American carriers have also been affected with Copa Airlines grounding 29 planes while a further 19 have been temporarily taken out of service by Aeromexico.

Five aircraft belonging to Turkish Airlines are also being examined as a precaution.

It takes up to eight hours to inspect each aircraft, and the Federal Aviation Administration has warned more action may be taken.

Flydubai has three Boeing 737-9 MAX planes in its fleet but these will continue to carry passengers as they are not affected by the door plug issue.

Meanwhile, investigators are hunting for the fuselage that blew off the Alaska Airlines aircraft, and believe it is in a small suburb of Portland called Cedar Hills. Anyone who finds it is being urged to contact the police.

Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters that “we are very lucky” that the accident wasn’t far worse.

She revealed no one was sat in the seats immediately next to the fuselage – and because the plane had not reached cruising altitude, passengers and crew were not moving around the cabin.

Warning “there is a lot of work to do”, she stressed: “We have the safest aviation system in the world. It is incredibly safe. We are the global gold standard for safety around the world, but we have to maintain that standard.”

Ms Homendy said no serious injuries have been reported, but added it would have been a “pretty terrifying event” that affected passengers psychologically.

Read more:
What ‘very dangerous’ blowout means for flights
Passenger relives ‘jarring’ ordeal

While no 737 MAX-9 planes are registered in the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority has asked all foreign airlines to perform inspections before flying into British airspace.

The Alaska Airlines aircraft involved in Friday’s incident had entered service just eight weeks earlier – and the fuselage that blew off covered a space reserved for an extra evacuation door.

While Boeing has welcomed the temporary groundings, it’s another blow for a company still trying to recover from two high-profile crashes that left its reputation in tatters.

Incident surprised experts

Anthony Brickhouse, a professor of aerospace safety, said he was stunned that a piece of fuselage would fly off a new aircraft.

And while panels have come off planes before, he couldn’t recall an incident that left passengers “looking at the lights of the city”.

He added: “I can’t imagine what these passengers experienced. The wind would be rushing through that cabin.

“It was probably a pretty violent situation, and definitely a scary situation.”

Mr Brickhouse said it was a powerful reminder that passengers should stay buckled in throughout a flight.

And David Learmount, consulting editor at Flightglobal, told Sky News: “If there were people near it who were not wearing the seatbelts, they would have disappeared.”

‘I am so sorry for what you experienced’

Passengers on board Flight 1282 – which was travelling from Portland in Oregon to Ontario in California – have been describing their ordeal.

“You heard a big loud bang to the left rear. A whooshing sound and all the oxygen masks deployed instantly and everyone got those on,” Evan Smith told local media.

Another passenger called Elizabeth told KGW that the incident happened about 20 minutes after take-off, in the sky three miles above Oregon.

“I looked to my left, and there’s just this huge gaping hole, on the left side where the window is,” she said – describing the sound of the wind as incredibly loud.

Elizabeth said passengers and crew were calm and everybody had their seatbelt on – and a recording showed the pilot also remained composed throughout.

She was heard asking air traffic controllers for permission to descend to 10,000ft after the cabin depressurised, an altitude where healthy people can breathe without additional oxygen.

The pilot subsequently declared an emergency and said that the plane needed to return to Portland.

Alaska Airlines chief executive Ben Minicucci said: “My heart goes out to those who were on this flight – I am so sorry for what you experienced.”

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