FBI Contacts Passengers Aboard Door Plug Blowout Flight

Several travelers on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 have received letters indicating they may be possible crime victims.

The door plug on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 blew off as the aircraft climbed through 16,000 feet. [Courtesy: NTSB]

The FBI is contacting passengers aboard a Boeing 737 Max 9 forced to make an emergency landing in January after a door plug dislodged midflight, suggesting they could be victims of a crime, according to reports.

Several passengers aboard that aircraft—operating as Alaska Airlines Flight 1282—have received letters from the FBI, the Seattle Times reported.

Last week the Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a criminal investigation into the January 5 door plug blowout. The FBI serves as the principal investigative arm of the DOJ.

Mark Lindquist, a Seattle area attorney who represents 26 of the 177 people who were on board the airliner in litigation against Boeing and Alaska Airlines, confirmed the passengers have been contacted by the FBI because they have been identified as a possible victim of a crime. The FBI letter warned the passengers that the investigation could take several months.

"In an event like this, it’s normal for the DOJ to be conducting an investigation," anAlaska Airlines spokesperson told FLYING. "We are fully cooperating and do not believe we are a target of the investigation."

Said Steve Bernd, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Seattle field office, told FLYING: "The FBI does not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation." 

According to the Washington Post, the FBI letter did not name Boeing.

The aircraft manufacturer did not respond to FLYING’s  request for comment.

The door plug blowout occurred  shortly after takeoff from Portland International Airport (KPDX) in Oregon. There were no serious physical injuries, and the aircraft was able to return to the airport for landing.

The event prompted the immediate grounding of all 737 Max 9 aircraft, pending inspection of the door plugs. The Max 9s remained on the ground while Alaska Airlines and  United Airlines—the two carriers who operate the aircraft—conducted inspections of the door plugs.

The preliminary investigation conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed the four bolts that were supposed to be installed to keep the door plug in place were missing. 

The Max 9 had performed more than 150 takeoffs and landings since it was delivered to Alaska Airlines in October 2023. The month preceding the incident, there were three reports of problems with the pressurization system. The airline restricted the aircraft from overwater routes and was allegedly preparing to bring it in for maintenance at the end of its duty day on January 5— the day of the blowout.

The FAA has since conducted an audit of Boeing and has given the manufacturing giant 90 days to demonstrate improved quality control procedures. According to Boeing, changes are already underway to improve the oversight of the production process.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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