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FAA grounds over 170 Boeing airliners after Alaska Airlines incident


The Boeing 737 MAX jet, an aircraft that was under global scrutiny just a few years ago, is in the spotlight again after one of the planes experienced a mid-flight blowout of part of its fuselage and was forced to abruptly land in Oregon Friday night. The incident prompted the grounding and inspection of over 170 Boeing 737 MAX 9 jets. It comes less than five years after the plane's manufacturer was investigated for two deadly crashes. NPR's Juliana Kim reports.

JULIANA KIM, BYLINE: Passengers say on Friday, less than 20 minutes into the Alaska Airlines flight, chaos ensued.


KIM: In videos taken by Elizabeth Le and shared with NPR, a panel of the cabin, essentially a plug that covers over where an emergency exit might otherwise be installed, is completely missing, leaving a gaping hole on the plane's left side. Le's videos also show passengers clinging on to their seat or breathing into oxygen masks. Fortunately, no one was seated by the window that flew off.


ELIZABETH LE: There was thankfully no one seated near the window. Yeah, they just said.

KIM: The plane was originally bound for Ontario, Calif., from Portland, Ore., but it abruptly returned to Portland International Airport after the incident. A hundred and seventy-one passengers and six crew members were on board. No serious injuries have been reported. The plane in question was a Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft. After the emergency landing, Alaska Airlines quickly grounded all 65 of its MAX 9 planes, vowing to inspect each jet before allowing it to fly again. On Saturday, the Federal Aviation Administration similarly ordered the immediate inspection of about 171 MAX 9s worldwide. Later, United Airlines also announced that all 79 of its MAX 9s would be grounded for inspection. Southwest and American Airlines told NPR they don't carry the model. Both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said no stone will be left unturned in the investigation.


JENNIFER HOMENDY: Certainly we're going to look at the maintenance records. We're going to look at repair. But this is a new plane. It was delivered and was put into service in - on November 11. But we're still going to want to look at that.

KIM: Homendy also asked the public for their help in finding the missing plane parts, which are believed to be near Cedar Hills outside of Portland. Friday's incident comes less than five years after Boeing was under global scrutiny for two deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, which killed 346 people. The pair of crashes involved an earlier model of the Boeing aircraft. In 2021, Boeing agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion to settle a criminal charge related to the accidents.

Juliana Kim, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.

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