Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX Exit Door Separates During Flight And the Airline to Ground Entire Boeing 737 MAX 9 Fleet 

In a startling mid-flight incident, an Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX lost its rear mid-cabin exit door shortly after takeoff from Portland, heading towards Ontario, California. The aircraft, registered as N704AL, was carrying 171 passengers and six crew members when the door assembly separated, leading to an immediate diversion back to Portland. This unusual event occurred just minutes into the flight on January 5th, prompting a swift and safe return to the departure airport.

Latest Update: Boeing CEO Acknowledges Responsibility in Alaska Airlines 737 MAX Incident

Flight AS1282 took off at 17:06 local time, achieving a maximum altitude of 16,325 feet before the incident necessitated an emergency descent and return. The crew handled the situation professionally, landing the aircraft safely back at Portland at 17:26 and reaching the gate by 17:30. The detailed timeline of the flight marks the quick response and efficient handling of the emergency by the flight crew.

The 737-9 MAX includes a rear cabin exit door aft of the wings, typically used in dense seating configurations to meet evacuation requirements. However, Alaska Airlines’ model features this door permanently “plugged,” as it is not activated for their aircraft configurations. The sudden separation of this non-activated exit door on flight AS1282 raises questions about the structural integrity and safety protocols surrounding these components.

Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX
Photo via AIRLIVE

The aircraft involved, N704AL, was a relatively new addition to the Alaska Airlines fleet, delivered by Boeing on October 31, 2023. Since entering commercial service in November 2023, the aircraft had accumulated 145 flights, including the incident flight. The day’s itinerary marked its third flight, demonstrating a high operational tempo that is typical for commercial airliners.

Update: Alaska Airlines Grounds 737 MAX 9 Fleet After Fuselage Incident

In a swift reaction to this shocking incident, Alaska Airlines has grounded its entire sub-fleet of the aircraft variant. This precautionary measure comes hours after Flight 1282 experienced a sudden loss of a fuselage section, leading to concerns over the aircraft’s safety and integrity. CEO Ben Minicucci emphasized that safety is the airline’s top priority and that each aircraft will undergo thorough inspections before returning to service.

The decision affects all 65 of Alaska Airlines’ 737 MAX 9 aircraft. CEO Minicucci assured passengers and crew of the airline’s commitment to safety, stating that detailed maintenance and safety inspections are underway. The airline expects to complete all inspections within the next few days, highlighting the urgency and seriousness with which Alaska Airlines is addressing the incident.

“Following tonight’s event on Flight 1282, we have decided to take the precautionary step of temporarily grounding our fleet of 65 Boeing 737-9 aircraft. Each aircraft will be returned to service only after completion of full maintenance and safety inspections. We anticipate all inspections will be completed in the next few days.”

Ben Minicucci – Alaska Airlines’ CEO

Boeing has acknowledged the incident and is actively working with Alaska Airlines to support the investigation. With the aircraft involved being nearly brand new, questions arise about manufacturing and design integrity. As the investigation proceeds, Boeing’s technical team is prepared to offer all necessary assistance to determine the cause of the fuselage loss and prevent future occurrences.

Debate Over the Nature of the Lost Fuselage Section

Alaska Airlines 737-9 MAX
Photo via JACDEC

While passengers perceived the missing section as a window, aviation experts clarify that it was a deactivated emergency exit door, indistinguishable from the cabin’s interior. This detail raises further questions about the aircraft’s design and the implications for high-density configurations that require additional emergency exits. The industry and the flying public await detailed analysis and clarification from the ongoing investigation.

Alaska Airlines’ management has expressed deep regret for the distress caused to passengers and crew, commending the professionalism and quick action of the flight crew during the emergency. The airline is providing support to those affected and coordinating closely with aviation authorities and Boeing to address the situation comprehensively. Meanwhile, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) has also voiced its support for the crew members, highlighting the critical role of flight attendants and pilots in ensuring passenger safety under extreme conditions.

“Flight Attendants described the decompression as explosive, and one Flight Attendant sustained minor injuries. The situation could have turned catastrophic without the exceptional skills and professionalism of the working Flight Attendants and pilots. We commend the entire crew for their outstanding work under such trying circumstances.”

Association of Flight Attendants (AFA)

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