"I can't imagine what these passengers experienced."
Last week, passengers aboard an Alaska Airlines flight from Portland, Oregon to Ontario, California experienced the fright of their lives.
Shortly after taking off, a substantial piece of the Boeing 737 MAX 9 fuselage tore off, causing air to rush out and pressure to drop. Fortunately, all 171 passengers and six crew members on board made it back to the ground largely unscathed after the pilots successfully turned back to land.
Now, regulators have kicked off an investigation and grounded 171 of the Boeing commercial airliners to check them for any signs of damage to ensure such an incident won't happen again. Alaska Airlines has also had to cancel hundreds of upcoming flights.
"I can't imagine what these passengers experienced," Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University air safety expert Anthony Brickhouse told Reuters. "The wind would be rushing through that cabin. It was a probably pretty violent situation, and definitely a scary situation."
It's still unclear just how widespread the grounding is. In the US, only Alaska Airlines and United are affected.
Nonetheless, it's the last thing Boeing needs, since the company has been struggling with one crisis after the other over in recent years. In early 2019, Boeing announced that it had grounded the entire global fleet of its 737 MAX aircraft following two fatal crashes, one in 2018 that killed all 189 people on board, and a second in 2019 that killed 157.
The culprit in both crashes turned out to be related to the plane's "enhanced flight control" system that caused the nose of the planes to dip rapidly.
In the latest instance, the offending component was a section of the fuselage that in some high-capacity configurations is used as an additional door. In the case of the Alaska Airlines flight, the opening was closed with a "plug door," per the BBC.
The MAX 9 makes up only 220 of the 1,400 MAX jets Boeing has delivered to customers. Most of these planes are owned by US airlines.
"We are very, very fortunate here that this didn't end up in something more tragic," National Transportation Safety Board chairman Jennifer Homendy said in a statement.
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