Federal officials examining the horrific explosion of part of the fuselage of an Alaska Airlines plane mid-flight say the missing piece has been found, a key detail in the investigation into what happened during the plane’s “explosive decompression,” with United Airlines saying it found a plug Disassembled door. Bolts on a number of its Boeing 737 Max 9s.
Some Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft have now been grounded across the country. United confirmed on Monday that it had found the loose bolts on an undisclosed number of its 737 Max 9 planes, as the company conducts FAA-mandated inspections in the wake of Friday’s incident.
“Since we began initial inspections on Saturday, we have found instances that appear to be related to installation issues with the door seal — for example, screws that need additional tightening,” United officials said in a statement. The United news was first reported by The Air Current, an airline industry publication.
Earlier Monday, a teacher in Portland found a refrigerator-sized Boeing 737 Max 9 fuselage door seal in his backyard and contacted the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said at a news conference.
Physics teacher Bob Sawyer later told reporters outside his home that a tree had prevented the object from hitting the ground. Sawyer said he found the door stop intact in one of the lower branches, with one edge on the ground.
Homendy told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” that Al-Bab had “a lot” he could tell investigators and “was really the missing piece in the investigation.”
“We are able to look at all the components on the door seal, all the assemblies, all the types of structures that may remain,” she said, adding that metallurgists and materials engineers will look at bolts, washers, nuts, etc. Door components.
The official asked if it was safe to fly on any Boeing plane at the moment. Hear her response
The manufacturer will sometimes place a door plug in place of the emergency exit door, depending on the configuration required by the airline.
This component had been missing since the plane exploded on Friday, leaving a large hole in the side of the plane as it flew at 16,000 feet shortly after taking off from Portland, Oregon, with 177 people on board. The horrific ordeal – which included headrests torn from seats and items sucked out of the cabin – led to a nationwide grounding and the cancellation of a large number of flights.
United, which has more Max 9 planes than any other U.S. airline, has canceled more than 470 flights since Saturday due to Max 9 inspections. The inspection requires removing two rows of seats and the plane’s interior panels, and requires five technicians, according to United.
Further complicating the NTSB investigation is the loss of critical cockpit voice recordings due to the device setup, Homendy said.
“(The explosion) was described to us by the flight crew as being a very violent and explosive event when it happened, and you could see that from inside the plane,” Homendy said on Monday, a day after she toured the plane.
“We were able to inspect the airframe itself from the outside and found no structural damage at all to the aircraft,” she told “CNN This Morning.” “Inside, there was a lot of damage to non-critical components.”
Homendy said damage was caused to decorations, insulation, windows and seats.
“It must have been really terrifying.”
There are still unanswered questions about previous warnings about the plane’s pressure and whether other Boeing planes are safe to fly.
“Our focus now is on this aircraft to determine what happened, how it happened, and to prevent it from happening again,” Homendy said. “Once we determine that we can see if there is a greater concern and we want to issue an urgent safety recommendation.”
NTSB officials will continue to painstakingly examine the plane’s interior and will recover and examine the detached door plug, Homendy said.
Boeing said it agreed with the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to ground the 737 MAX 9 planes during their inspection.
The order affects approximately 171 aircraft “with a mid-cabin door seal installed.”
The FAA said the planes must remain parked until emergency inspections are conducted, which “will take approximately four to eight hours per aircraft.”
Boeing said on Monday that it had sent instructions to airlines and maintenance companies on how to inspect the planes. The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that it had signed these instructions.
The supplier that makes the fuselage for the Boeing 737 MAX, Spirit AeroSystems, said it was working with Boeing on the issue.
“We are grateful that the Alaska Airlines crew took the appropriate procedures to land the plane with the safety of all passengers and crew members,” the company said in a statement on Monday. “At Spirit AeroSystems, our primary focus is quality and product safety for the airframes we offer.”
Alaska Airlines also said it is working with Boeing to understand what happened on Flight 1282.
The phone fell 16,000 feet from an Alaska Airlines flight, and it still works
The airline had grounded the plane in Friday’s incident from flying over the ocean to Hawaii to ensure the plane could “return to the airport very quickly” if any warning lights on the plane went off, according to Homendy.
Homendy said the decision came after the plane’s automatic pressure failure light came on three times in the past month. She noted that it is not clear whether there is a link between the warning lights and Friday’s accident.
While the repeated pressure alert is “very concerning to investigators,” who are looking into the issue with Boeing and Alaska Airlines, Homendy said it “may have absolutely nothing to do with what happened in the plane’s cabin during that event.”
She added that the fault light came on December 7 and January 3 and 4, the days before the explosion. Each time, the flight crew would press the system’s backup switch, Homendy said, describing the step as “pretty normal.”
“They flipped it over, reported it, ran it through maintenance and then reset it.”
“They have ordered additional maintenance to look at the light that was not completed before (the fuselage exploded). We plan to look into the matter further and have requested documentation of all the defects since the aircraft was delivered on October 31,” she said.
The plane involved in Friday’s incident had been in service for about three months and flown about 150 times since October 2023, according to FlightAware and FAA records.
Interviews with cabin crew and examinations of the damage left behind inside the cabin have highlighted the loud, “violent” and chaotic scene inside the plane when a door seal ruptured, causing an incredibly strong drop in pressure and sending flight attendants swerving to the side. Of the children on board, the NTSB chief said.
Homendy said that after the “explosive event,” the flight attendants rushed to ensure that four unaccompanied minors on board the plane were wearing oxygen masks and lap belts, praising the flight attendants and describing them as “heroic.”
The airline said in a statement on Saturday that several passengers on board were infected and required medical attention but all have since been medically cleared.
She added that “communication was a serious problem” between pilots and flight attendants, who said they had difficulty exchanging information quickly.
“I want to stress that the actions of the cabin crew were truly amazing,” she said.
The impact of the event caused damage to interior panels, trim and plastic around windows inside the plane, all of which were “not serious” to the airframe, Homendy said.
The damage extended to several rows of the plane, not just the row next to the hole, according to Homendy. She previously said that the two seats next to the door socket – 26A and 26B – were empty when the explosion occurred, but their headrests were torn off. The back of the 26A is completely gone.
She indicated that there was no structural damage to the plane and its structure.
The cockpit voice recorder, which picks up sounds such as engine noise and pilots’ voices, has been “completely overwritten,” as the devices are currently only required to retain two hours of audio at a time, Homendy said.
“There’s nothing on the cockpit voice recorder,” she said, noting that the maintenance team went out to get the recorder about two hours later when the devices begin a new recording cycle.
“We are disappointed that the cockpit voice recorder was overwritten,” Homendy said Monday.
Homendy said the audio captured by the recorders was “important” to help investigators understand what happened during the incident. Without it, there is no record of communications between pilots and flight attendants as the crisis unfolds.
“If this communication is not recorded, it unfortunately means a loss for the NTSB, a loss for the FAA and a loss for safety because this information is essential not only to our investigations, but to improving aviation safety.” Homendy said.
Although the FAA has proposed a new rule that would require new aircraft to extend cockpit voice recordings to 25 hours, the rule would not require retrofitting of older aircraft, Homendy noted. The head of the NTSB called on the FAA and Congress to require 25-hour recordings on all aircraft.
“I can’t stress enough how important this is for safety,” she said.
CNN asked Alaska Airlines about the erased cockpit audio and the airline’s previous decision to ground the plane from flying over the ocean. The company responded in a statement on Monday:
“Because this is an active investigation, we must obtain authorization from the NTSB to provide information about the aircraft and its prior maintenance,” Alaska Airlines said. “We have asked the NTSB for permission to address these questions – they will not allow us to comment at this time. We will provide the information as soon as the NTSB gives us permission to do so.”
Two cellphones that were likely thrown from the plane were found in a yard and on the side of the road and were turned over to investigators who may be able to use them as evidence, Homendy said.
“Cellphones have already helped us identify some of the things that have happened after tragedies… but they also help tell us: ‘Are we looking in the right area?'” the agency’s chief said just minutes before the door plug was discovered.
Sean Bates told CNN that he discovered a phone on the side of a road in Oregon and turned it over to the NTSB, which was already in the area investigating the incident.
The phone did not have a security lock, and a photo of the phone shows an emailed baggage receipt from Alaska Airlines for two bags, Bates said.
The agency impounded the phone on Sunday and has since turned the phone over to Alaska Airlines, NTSB spokeswoman Jennifer Gabris told CNN.
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Holly Yan, Joe Sutton, Mike Valerio, Ana Maja Rappard and Chris Boyett contributed to this report.