The National Transportation Safety Board said Sunday that the Alaska Airlines plane, which had a piece of its fuselage blown into the air Friday, was not being used on long flights over water because pressure warning lights went off during three recent flights. It was done.
Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said it was too early to say whether the issue played a role in Friday’s incident, which led to the grounding of 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes in the United States. “It is certainly a concern and we want to take a deeper look at it,” Ms. Homendy said at a news conference in Portland, Ore.
He said Alaska Airlines maintenance personnel were instructed to determine why the warning light was going off repeatedly, but the work was not done before the flight on Friday. Instead, Ms. Homendy said, crews reset the systems and the plane was put back into service, although the airline banned it from being used on flights to destinations such as Hawaii.
He said the safety board is trying to get more information about what happened when the lights went out during three flights, all since Dec. 7.
Friday’s incident aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, bound for Ontario, California, occurred at an altitude of 16,000 feet and forced the pilots to return to Portland International Airport shortly after takeoff. None of the 171 passengers and six crew on board were seriously injured, but they were exposed to strong winds from a hole in the fuselage when the pilots made an emergency landing.
Officials have focused their attention on the mid-cabin door plug, part of a piece of fuselage that broke off from the plane. Ms. Homendy said Sunday that investigators recovered the door plug in the backyard of a Portland home. Door plugs are used to fill emergency exits that are not needed because the aircraft is configured with fewer seats than the maximum possible number.
Ms. Homendy also said there was no information on the plane’s cockpit voice recorder because the device started recording again after two hours, erasing previous data, and it could not be recovered in time. Ms Homendy said the safety board, which is pushing to extend the two-hour period to 25 hours, had conducted 10 investigations since 2018 in which cockpit voice recorders were similarly overwritten.
“Cockpit voice recorders are not convenient for the NTSB to use in an investigation or for the FAA to use in an investigation,” he said. “They are critical in helping us figure out exactly what was going on.”
Ms Homendy said the force of decompression opened the cockpit door during Friday’s incident, causing one of the pilots to lose their headset. Head rests were separated from the seats, seat backs were missing and clothing was scattered throughout the aircraft.
Sunday was the board’s first full day of investigation into the episode, which has drawn new attention to the Max aircraft and its troubled history. The MAX was grounded worldwide after two Max 8 jets crashed within several months in 2018 and 2019, killing hundreds.
On Saturday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced mandatory inspections affecting 171 Max 9 planes in use by US airlines. Alaska Airlines, which has 65 planes, canceled 170 flights Sunday because of the order. United Airlines, which has 79 Max 9s, more than any other carrier, said it canceled about 270 flights over the weekend.