Investigators asked for the public’s help Saturday night to find a missing piece of the Alaska Airlines jet that lost a plug in its fuselage on Friday.
During a media briefing following the arrival of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) at the accident site, Jennifer Homendy, the NTSB chair, said that the missing part — a plug used to seal an unused space for an extra emergency exit — was likely somewhere in the Cedar Hills neighborhood just to the west of Portland.
“If you find it, please, please contact local law enforcement,” Homendy said, “or email us.”
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“We’re also looking for pictures and videos from inside the aircraft,” she said. “Please email those to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Photos circulating on social media appeared to show a clean hole where the door plug had been on the Boeing 737 MAX 9, as if the piece had simply blown away — there was no damage to the frame around the door visible in the photos, although investigators will look at the structure of the fuselage in minute detail.
In the days before the flight, there were several reports of intermittent warning lights indicating pressure loss issues on the aircraft, The Air Current first reported, although the airline later said that those incidents had been addressed and resolved.
Homendy stressed that the probe was in its preliminary stages but said that investigators thus far were focused on the individual plane involved in the accident, rather than the 737 MAX 9 fleet subtype in general.
“But I am very encouraged, again, that the FAA took actions to temporarily ground this particular aircraft for inspection, and for addressing any potential concerns that were identified through those inspections,” Homendy said.
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On Saturday, the FAA ordered the grounding of some 737 MAX 9 aircraft pending inspection.
In an Emergency Airworthiness Directive, the agency ordered the inspections of all aircraft that were outside of certain routine maintenance inspection windows, which will include about 171 aircraft, the agency said. There are approximately 215 of the aircraft subtype in service globally, according to aviation data firm Cirium.
Those inspections will take four to eight hours per aircraft, the FAA said. The inspection may be able to be performed at outstations, rather than at maintenance hubs, which would significantly speed up the process, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Alaska Airlines initially said that it would ground its fleet of 65 Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft, but continued operating flights with about a dozen of the jets Saturday morning.
While the airline said Saturday afternoon that 18 of its 65 aircraft of the subtype had undergone the relevant inspection as part of routine heavy maintenance recently enough, the airline reversed course later in the day and grounded the subfleet following the FAA’s order.
“These aircraft have now also been pulled from service until details about possible additional maintenance work are confirmed with the FAA,” the airline said in a statement. “We are in touch with the FAA to determine what, if any, further work is required before these aircraft are returned to service.”
The airline canceled about 160 flights scheduled to be operated on the jets.
United, the other major U.S. carrier with the 737 MAX 9 in service, confirmed that it was also grounding its fleet of 79 of the aircraft type. The airline canceled about 60 flights on Saturday.
“We are working with the FAA to clarify the inspection process and the requirements for returning all MAX 9 aircraft to service,” the airline said.
On Sunday, United had canceled 231flights by 10:45 a.m. ET, while Alaska had canceled 163, according to FlightAware. That represents 8% of United’s flights thus far on the day and 21% of Alaska’s. It was not immediately clear how many of those were directly caused by the MAX 9 grounding and how many were linked to a winter storm in the Northeast or other causes. However, for comparison, American Airlines thus far has had 8 cancellations for the day.
No one was seriously hurt during the accident on Friday, Homendy confirmed during the briefing.
“We don’t often talk about psychological injury, but I’m sure that occurred here,” she added. “I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to those that experienced what I imagined was truly terrifying.”