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Missing Bolts Cause Emergency Landing of Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9: NTSB Report

Bolts Missing from Boeing 737 Max 9 Led to Panel Detachment, NTSB Preliminary Report Reveals

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In a recent investigation into the emergency landing of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9, accident investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) unveiled a shocking finding – certain bolts that secured a panel to the aircraft’s frame were missing before the panel blew off mid-air, endangering the lives of the crew and passengers.

Missing Bolts Led to Panel Separation

Unveiled in a preliminary report released on Tuesday, the NTSB highlighted that the absence of specific damage on the Boeing plane strongly suggests that all four bolts were missing before the aircraft took off from Portland, Oregon. The panel, known as a door plug, had nothing to prevent it from sliding upward and detaching from the “stop pads” securing it to the airframe.

The missing bolts came to light when the Alaska Airlines pilots were forced to execute a harrowing emergency landing after the panel blew off mid-flight. Thankfully, no serious injuries were reported among the passengers and crew on board.

The NTSB’s report included an image shared by Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer, revealing that three bolts preventing the panel from moving upward were missing, while the location of the fourth bolt remained concealed by insulation.

Unaddressed Documentation Raises Concerns

The initial report from the NTSB indicated that when the plane reached Boeing’s factory near Seattle, five damaged rivets were found near the door plug. Supplier Spirit AeroSystems had initially installed the rivets, and upon discovering the damage, a Spirit crew had to replace them by removing the four bolts and opening the plug.

Interestingly, the report failed to mention who had removed the bolts. However, it did contain a text message exchange between Boeing employees, who had worked on the plane after the rivet replacement, including a photograph showcasing the door plug with missing bolts.

These unanswered questions regarding the identity of those responsible for removing the bolts raised concerns among representatives, such as Senator Tammy Duckworth from Illinois. Duckworth expressed frustration over the lack of documentation by Boeing, asserting that the company bore ultimate responsibility for the incident. She also expressed concerns about potential chain failures.

No Initial Cause Determination, But Boeing Holds Accountability

Placeholderinfo adds that the NTSB has yet to assign a probable cause for the accident, a determination that will become available once the investigation reaches its conclusion, which could take a year or more. However, Boeing’s CEO, David Calhoun, acknowledged the company’s accountability in a released statement. Calhoun declared that events like this should not occur on aircraft leaving their factory, emphasizing the necessity for improvement and ensuring a higher level of safety for passengers and customers.

Additionally, investigators are working to establish who authorized the Boeing crew to open and reinstall the door plug, as it remains as another unanswered question in this incident.

Potentially Catastrophic Accident Averted

Aviation safety experts have highlighted the potentially catastrophic consequences if the Alaska jet had reached cruising altitude before the panel incident. The resulting decompression in the cabin after the blowout would have been far more severe, and the lack of belted passengers and flight attendants could have compounded the risks.

Concerns about manufacturing quality at Boeing have continue to emerge, precipitated by the established investigative links between the deadly crashes of two Max 8 jets in 2018 and 2019 and manufacturing issues. In 2021, Boeing reached a settlement with the Justice Department, avoiding criminal prosecution by acknowledging charges of conspiring to defraud government regulators by misrepresenting a flawed flight-control system implicated in the crashes.

FAA Investigation on Max 9 Aircraft Production and Safety Procedures

Following the series of troubling incidents, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has launched a probe, examining proper safety procedures with respect to fabrication and assembly of parts for the Boeing Max series. For now, the FAA has suspended permission for Boeing to speed up production of 737s until all quality issues have been resolved.

FAA Administrator, Michael Whitaker, confirmed that his agency has taken up a comprehensive six-week audit to discern the specific manufacturing anomalies in the Max 9 as well as gain insight into Boeing’s production processes.

Spirit AeroSystems, a company that split off from Boeing two decades ago, responded to the NTSB’s preliminary report by committing to a thorough review in collaboration with Boeing and regulators. Spirit emphasized their dedication to continuous improvement, ensuring the highest standards of safety, quality, and reliability.

Financial Impact on Airlines

Alaska Airlines predicted a loss of approximately $150 million due to the grounding of its 65 Max 9 aircraft. However, they expect a compensation arrangement with Boeing. United Airlines, on the other hand, has anticipated financial losses for the first quarter, as they prepare for a future that may not include the new, larger Max jets that are awaiting FAA approval.


The preliminary report from the NTSB has shed light on the alarming discovery of missing bolts on the Boeing 737 Max 9, leading to the panel separation mid-air. The investigation continues, with further findings expected to pinpoint the specific cause of this incident. While concerns surrounding manufacturing quality persist, Boeing recognizes its accountability and prioritizes enhancing safety standards. As the FAA probes both the Max 9 and Boeing’s production processes, the aviation industry eagerly awaits the results to ensure the reliability and safety of future aircraft.

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