In response to a harrowing incident involving an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9, federal officials have issued an immediate grounding order for all such jetliners pending thorough inspections. The urgency arises after the Alaska Airlines plane suffered a blowout, resulting in a substantial hole in the fuselage.
Approximately 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft worldwide are affected by the mandated inspections, each estimated to take between four to eight hours per aircraft. As of Saturday morning, over a quarter of the fleet had undergone inspections, and no alarming findings were reported, according to the airline.
“Aircraft will return to service as their inspections are completed with our full confidence,” assured the company in a statement.
The critical incident unfolded when an Alaska Airlines jetliner experienced a window blowout and fuselage damage shortly after takeoff, reaching an altitude of 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) above Oregon on Friday. The resulting gaping hole prompted emergency protocols, leading to a safe landing at Portland International Airport within 20 minutes of departure.
Despite the dramatic nature of the event, all 174 passengers and six crew members on board emerged unscathed, thanks in part to the prompt use of oxygen masks.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced on Saturday that it would initiate an investigation into the incident.
Evan Smith, a passenger on the flight, recounted a particularly distressing moment involving a child and their mother seated in the row where the window blew out. The rapid decompression of the cabin caused the child’s shirt to be sucked out of the plane.
Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci acknowledged that the inspection of the entire 65-strong Boeing 737 Max 9 fleet could take several days. These aircraft constitute a fifth of the airline’s total fleet of 314 planes. The potential impact on the company’s flight schedule remains uncertain as inspections progress.