Airplane Door Mysteriously Falls out of the Sky: Alaska Airlines Incident

A photo released by the NTSB shows the hole where the door used to be.
A photo released by the NTSB shows the hole where the door used to be.

Only a few days into the new year, passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight to California from Portland, Oregon were frightened when the door of their plane was suddenly sucked into the night sky.

When the passenger door fell off the plane mid-flight, two headrests along with multiple phones were sucked out the refrigerator-sized hole in the side of the plane. Seconds later, oxygen masks dropped and were accessible to all passengers. The blowout resulted in an emergency landing of the plane back in Portland where all passengers and crew were deemed OK with no serious injuries.

Passenger experience

Passengers reported feeling mild turbulence at the beginning—which escalated into a scary situation for all aboard the flight. Two passengers that were located in the row behind the door, Sieysoar Un and her 12-year-old-son, Josaih McCaul, reflected on the incident on Good Morning America.

Un recalls, “We literally thought we were going to die.” 

Her son, McCaul, reported, “It was silent for like one second, and then you would feel and hear a lot of air blowing around, freezing cold air.”

What was the cause?

As investigation continued after the incident, it was discovered that the door plug had come off the fuselage, which was the cause for the door detaching mid-flight. At the time, the door plug was unable to be located. Due to the incident, all Alaska Airlines flights using Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes—the model of the culpable flight—were grounded shortly after, along with some other flights being canceled. This affected around 171 planes worldwide.

A check of all door plugs was conducted within the grounded planes. Many of them were found in conditions not suitable for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Statements made following the incident

The FAA made a public announcement on January 11th addressing the situation, stating that “this incident should have never happened and it cannot happen again.” They also reported that “Boeing’s manufacturing practices need to comply with the high safety standards they’re legally accountable to meet.”

Following these statements, Alaska Airlines stated “that this incident is the result of a ‘quality escape.’” In addition to this, the airline also gave updates on a conversation with the CEO of Boeing and their leadership team, saying they “engaged in a candid conversation with Boeing’s CEO and leadership team to discuss their quality improvement plans to ensure the delivery of the highest quality aircraft off the production line for Alaska.”

Door plug located

Multiple days after the incident, a man in Portland, Oregon found the missing door plug, which had caused the door to detach, in the backyard of his home. 

Bob Sauer, a science teacher, was the man who found the plug. After sending in photos of it to the police, he reported that “all of Portland was looking for it.” A friend brought the situation to his attention by recommending that he also check his yard for the missing plug. To Sauer’s surprise, the door plug weighing 63 pounds was laying in his backyard.

In addition to the door plug, Bob reported finding two cell phones in the same relative area as the plug. These phones happened to be some of the ones that had been sucked out of the plane. 

Bob was thanked greatly by the National Transportation Safety Board Chair, Jennifer Homendy.

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