Boeing plane with mid-flight panel blowout may have left factory missing critical bolts: Report

The Boeing 737 9 MAX airplane that experienced a mid-flight door panel blowout last month may have left the factory without key bolts, according to the United States National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report.

In January, an Alaska Airlines flight headed to California from Oregon was forced to make an emergency landing when an exit door panel blew out. As a result of the terrifying incident, all Boeing 737 9 MAX planes were grounded for several weeks pending quality control inspections. Alaska Airlines and United Airlines reported finding loose bolts on several planes.

The door panel that blew off mid-flight was designed to be held in place by four bolts and 12 “stop fittings.” The safety board’s initial investigation found that the bolts appeared to be missing.

“Once the plug is in place, it is secured from moving vertically by a total of four bolts,” the Tuesday report explained. “Overall, the observed damage patterns and absence of contact damage or deformation around holes associated with the vertical movement arrestor bolts and upper guide track bolts in the upper guide fittings, hinge fittings, and recovered aft lower hinge guide fitting indicate that the four bolts that prevent upward movement of the [mid exit door] plug were missing before the MED plug moved upward off the stop pads.”

According to the NTSB, Spirit AeroSystems, a former Boeing subsidiary, had previously removed the door plug in September to fix damaged rivets.

“Photo documentation obtained from Boeing shows evidence of the left-hand MED plug closed with no retention hardware (bolts) in the three visible locations,” the report continued. “The investigation continues to determine what manufacturing documents were used to authorize the opening and closing of the left MED plug during the rivet rework.”

“When was the last time those bolts were installed?” asked U.S. aviation safety expert John Cox, Reuters reported. “Did Spirit not install them and then when Boeing opened it the guys didn’t realize that they didn’t have the bolts? Or did Boeing not install them? That is something that I don’t think we have an answer for yet.”

Jennifer Homendy, chair of the NTSB, told CNN that a similar incident could happen again.

“Of course, something like this can happen again,” Homendy said Wednesday. “This is the reason the NTSB exists to ensure this never happens again.”

“There is no way that this plane should have been delivered with four safety-critical bolts missing,” she added. “There’s a problem in the process. We’re not just digging into what’s going on at Boeing. We’re also digging to FAA’s oversight of Boeing as well. I’m very encouraged by the administrator’s comments.”

Boeing’s shareholders have since filed a lawsuit against the aircraft company, claiming that its “serious safety lapses” and “poor quality control” measures led to the terrifying incident, which ultimately prompted a dip in stock prices. Shareholders accused Boeing of prioritizing profits over safety.

In a recent statement, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said, “Whatever final conclusions are reached, Boeing is accountable for what happened. An event like this must not happen on an airplane that leaves our factory.”

“We simply must do better for our customers and their passengers,” he added.

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