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Loose Bolts Found on United Airlines’ 737 Max 9 Fleet After Alaska Airlines Incident

United Airlines announced that it has identified loose bolts in its 737 Max 9 fleet during inspections, following the recent incident involving an Alaska Airlines plane where a door plug blew out. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has grounded all 737 Max 9s in response to safety concerns.

Discovery of Loose Bolts

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United Airlines confirmed the discovery of loose bolts during preliminary inspections of its 737 Max 9 aircraft. While the airline did not specify the exact number of planes affected, they attributed the issue to installation problems related to the door plug.

FAA Grounds 737 Max 9s

Credit: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, USA – JANUARY 28, 2013: An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-400 lands at Los Angeles Airport on January 28, 2013. The plane seats 126 passengers with a range of 10,200 km — Photo by dmediapro

In response to the Alaska Airlines incident and United’s findings, the FAA decided to ground all 737 Max 9 aircraft. The FAA emphasized its commitment to ensuring the safety of the flying public.

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Flight Cancellations

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Due to the emergency inspections prompted by the loose bolts, United Airlines had to cancel 200 Max 9 flights on Monday. The airline anticipates further significant cancellations on Tuesday, affecting passengers’ travel plans.

Boeing’s Response

Credit: EL SEGUNDO, CA, USA, MARCH 7, 201.: Boeing manufacturing facility. Boeing manufactures and sells aircraft, rotorcraft, rockets and satellites. It is the second-largest defense contractor in the world. — Photo by wolterke

Boeing issued a statement in response to United’s findings, expressing its commitment to working closely with operators to address any issues identified during inspections. The company acknowledged the impact on customers and passengers and pledged to ensure that every Boeing airplane meets safety and quality standards.

NTSB Investigation Continues

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is actively investigating the incident involving the Alaska Airlines flight that experienced a door plug failure near Portland, Oregon. The NTSB has not yet commented on United Airlines’ announcement.

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Recovery of Door Plug

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NTSB investigators successfully recovered the door plug that detached from Alaska Airlines Flight 1282. The 26-by-46-inch, 63-pound plug was found intact in the backyard of a Portland teacher’s home, providing a crucial piece of evidence for the investigation.

Incident Details

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The incident occurred as the Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft, carrying 171 passengers, climbed to 16,000 feet after taking off from Portland International Airport. The sudden loss of the door plug caused an “explosive decompression” of the aircraft.

Nature of the Door Plug

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The door plug is a component used to seal unused exits on aircraft. It is secured to the plane with a series of bolts, cables, hinges, and stop pads, as shown in an NTSB diagram.

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No Injuries Reported

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Fortunately, there were no injuries reported in the incident. However, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy noted that if it had occurred at a higher altitude, the outcome could have been much more severe.

Chaos Inside the Cabin

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The detachment of the door plug created a chaotic situation inside the plane’s cabin. It resulted in the expulsion of headrests, at least one tray table, and two cell phones through the hole in the aircraft.

Impact on Cockpit

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The incident also affected the cockpit, blowing open the cockpit door and causing the loss of a laminated quick reference checklist that the pilots use. Oxygen masks were deployed, and the crew activated the speaker to communicate with passengers.

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Damage to the Aircraft

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Rows 1 through 33 on the plane sustained damage due to the sudden decompression. Investigators are examining the plane’s components and frame related to the door plug to determine the cause of the incident.

Previous Incidents

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The investigation revealed three previous incidents on the same Alaska Airlines plane where the auto pressurization fail light illuminated during flights in December 2023 and January 2024. These incidents did not result in any significant issues.

Uncertain Correlation

Credit: SEATTLE, WA, USA – JUNE 2019: Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 taxiing for take off. The aircaft carries an “Incredibles 2” paint scheme as part of sponsored advertising

It remains uncertain whether there is a correlation between the illuminated auto pressurization light and the door plug failure. Alaska Airlines restricted the aircraft’s operations to overland flights as a precaution.

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Cockpit Voice Recorder

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While the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was recovered from the plane, it contained no useful data as it was programmed to reset and re-record every two hours. Investigators are conducting interviews with the flight crew and passengers as part of the ongoing investigation.

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