737 Max 9’s missing door plug found, may hold vital clues for blowout

US officials have recovered a panel that blew off an Alaska Airlines airliner triggering a partial grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX 9 and sending shares in the planemaker tumbling on Monday. A door plug tore off on Friday following takeoff from Portland, Oregon, en route to Ontario, California, depressurizing the plane and forcing pilots to turn back. The plane, with 171 passengers and six crew on board, landed safely.
The US Federal Aviation Administration on Saturday ordered the temporary grounding of 171 Boeing MAX 9 jets installed with the same panel, which weighs about 27 kg and covers an optional exit door.
It was recovered on Sunday by a Portland school teacher identified only as “Bob” in the Cedar Hills neighbourhood who found it in his backyard, US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy said. She said she was “very relieved” it had been found having called it a “key missing component” to determine why the accident occurred. Homendy said the cockpit voice recorder didn’t capture any data because it had been overwritten. She called on regulators to mandate retrofitting existing planes with recorders that capture 25 hours of data, up from the current 2 hours.
Homendy said the auto pressurisation fail light illuminated on the same Alaska Airlines aircraft on Dec. 7, Jan. 3 and Jan. 4, but it was unclear if there was any connection between those incidents and the accident. Alaska Airlines made a decision after the warnings to restrict the aircraft from making long flights over water to Hawaii so that it could return quickly to an airport if needed, Homendy said. The carrier said earlier that aircraft pressurisation system write-ups were typical with large planes.
Boeing’s shares fell as much as 8% in pre-market US trade on Monday. If the losses hold, the company would lose more than $12.5 billion in value, almost the cost of developing a new plane. The mishap comes as Boeing and supplier Spirit AeroSystems , which made the panel, grapple with ongoing production setbacks and wider disruption from the pandemic.
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