An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 had an explosive decompression shortly after takeoff on Friday, but the crew was able to land safely back at Portland International Airport. Alaska immediately grounded all 65 of its MAX 9s pending an inspection and on Saturday the FAA ordered the full U.S. fleet grounded for inspection. A plug used to fill the space that could be occupied by an optional emergency exit on the left side of the aircraft and possibly some of the structure surrounding it blew out as the plane climbed through 16,000 feet on its way from Portland to Ontario, California. The plug was in place because Alaska doesn’t put enough seats in its MAX 9s to warrant the additional emergency exit.

A report by a Portland television station shows a gaping hole in the fuselage. A Tik Tok video has been posted by the Daily Mail showing the scene from inside the cabin after the departure of the exit. The failure occurred next to a seat occupied by a boy whose shirt was ripped off. Adults held him in his seat. There were 174 passengers and six crew onboard. The incident happened about 5 p.m. local time. The aircraft was almost new and was delivered to Alaska two months ago, according to the Daily Mail. The FAA and NTSB are assembling teams to travel to Portland. This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.


FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker announced today (Jan. 6) an order to temporarily ground 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9s for safety checks. In response to Friday night’s cabin panel blowout on its Flight 1282, Alaska Airlines had already grounded its 65 MAX 9s. The FAA grounding will also impact United’s fleet of 79 of the single-aisle airliners. Worldwide, there are 215 MAX 9s in service.

“The FAA is requiring immediate inspections of certain Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft before they can return to flight,” Whitaker said. “Safety will continue to drive our decision-making as we assist the NTSB’s investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. It’s a full door. There’s photos of the aircraft from the outside with the door missing.

    I presume this is not the plug-type door we would typically expect? If it were, surely it would have had to have a severe defect to come apart and depart like that?

    • I did a lot of flying back in the 70’s and 80’s and I seem to remember that on Boeing aircraft the overwing exit doors were plug type doors. The safety card advised to remove the door and place it on the seats next to the opening. I just looked at some pictures of later versions that show the door being hinged at the top and staying attached to the fuselage. The doors are prevented from opening in flight by an electronic locking system.

  2. “Ain’t going unless it’s Boeing” was the saying. “Based on years of research with passengers, the 737 MAX offers a comfortable cabin for passengers, with larger windows, energy-efficient LED lighting and great airconditioning”

  3. Is it reasonable to assume that detailed inspections of the fuselage structure will be mandated for other carriers utilizing this model?

  4. It was apparently a deactivated door, intended for use in high density configurations, which this airplane didn’t have.

    Reports are that the airplane was less than 2 months old and had only flown 145 sectors.

    Nobody hurt but that was likely due to the explosive decompression only happening at 16,000 feet not FL 340

    Not a good look for Boeing…..

  5. From small GA parts to large aircraft, the CEO’s and executive staff are too far removed from engineering. They are not manufacturing a commodity product.

    Formally strategic functions like IT or product engineering are now merely “cost centers” to manage for a better bottom line.

  6. the 737 fuselages are built at what is now Spirit Aero systems in Wichita, formerly Boeing but spun off at some stage

  7. NYT-Breaking news: U.S. orders some Boeing 737 Max 9 jets grounded after midair emergency

    What about the other Boeing 737 Max 9 operators (215 jets in service as of Jan. 6):
    United – 79
    Alaska – 65 (Grounded)
    Copa – 29
    Aeromexico – 19
    Turkish – 5
    SCAT Airlines – 5
    Icelandair – 4
    Lion Air – 3
    Flydubai – 3
    Corendon Dutch – 2
    Air Tanzania – 1

  8. This was a door/plug aft of the L/H wing ( not over wing) that departed at 16K ft. I wish the media and others would get their facts straight before blurting out all kinds of headline attention explosive garbage. Apparently facts don’t matter anymore. It will be interesting to see how that door lasted 3 months of high altitude pressurization and who installed and inspected it. Lucky for the passengers it wasn’t a packed plane with every seat full. Just like aircraft engines I would much rather fly in a seasoned plane then a brand new one.

    • Facts do matter. We do our best, Phil but that information just wasn’t available until today. We’ve updated our story. You are correct, though. I shouldn’t have assumed it was over the wing but I’ve just never seen a mid-ship exit that wasn’t over a wing.

      • I’ll “stick up” for Russ … at least Avweb isn’t seeking or printing sensational titles or stories in an effort to get reader counts. We’re all airplane people here … ya wins some and ya loses some. Not intentional and it was corrected. Assuming it was over wing would be the natural viewpoint IMHO. Honest mistake.
        I’m wondering why a plug/door NOT overwing was on the fuselage. I hear that different seating counts and configurations might require the plug but if it isn’t over wing … why is the position wrong? Maybe there’s different lengths of fuselages for different models and when they’re not required, they just plug the hole. Look to me as if the installer or design has a problem here. Grounding the fleet was the correct decision. Time to take that plug out of the design.

  9. I’m curious how long it will take before airline unions start blaming General Aviation for any delays caused by this incident.

  10. ‘ The failure occurred next to a seat occupied by a boy whose shirt was ripped off. Adults held him in his seat.’
    Not clear if he was belted in or not. Keep those seatbelts fastened…

  11. There’s something really disconcerting about this story. The timeline (I’m getting just from the CNN stories I read at the time):
    1) The incident occurs Friday evening
    2) Saturday morning, Alaska airlines announces they’ve inspected 25% of their 737 Max fleet and put them back into service with no problems.
    3) The NTSB “go team” and FAA are enroute

    I’ll avoid the harsh language, but it’s seriously called for here: “What the **&#%(“?

    So, you’re Alaska airlines, and you have a 3 month old airplane with a part rip off, explosively decompressing an airplane (and who knows what happens if that door goes into the tail, or someone was sitting in that seat, or the middle passenger wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, or…). You have two choices:
    1) “We better investigate what happened, notify the FAA and NTSB of our results so they can warn other operators, wait for Boeing and ideally our regulator to confirm our investigation, and ensure we don’t put lives at risk.”
    2) “Let’s have the maintenance guys just check to see if all the other doors are still there and put them back into service because who cares if this is an engineering issue, a material issue, an aging issue, or would affect other aircraft or passengers. Ship the humans! We have to make more profit this quarter!”

    If there’s a life threatening problem in ANY system, you investigate the root cause, confer with experts, share with everyone affected, and make certain you got it right before calling it “fixed”.

    I really hope journalists hold Alaska’s feet to the fire for this massive, life-threatening, blunder.

  12. In history worse has happened. I recall a Hawaii Airlines lost structure from aft of the cockpit back maybe 10 seat rows, the whole top hemisphere of the fuselage. Landed amazingly enough albeit with loss of life sadly. Google has more.

  13. Also a 737 but totally different failure mechanism. Aloha Airlines flight history was an older jet with extraordinary high cycles due to all the short island hopping flights. Definitely not the same as a low time low cycle fresh off the line jet.

  14. Pilot: Something loose in cockpit.
    Maintenance: Something tightened in cockpit.

    According to The Washington Post, Alaska Airlines reported that the plane’s auto-pressurization fail light indicating cabin pressure control issues, had activated on three flights in the weeks leading up to the incident (Dec. 7, Jan. 3, and Jan. 4). Maintenance conducted tests and resets, and as a precaution, the aircraft was prohibited from flying to Hawaii, anticipating potential pressure-related problems.

    However, despite this precaution, a subsequent request by Alaska Airlines for a more thorough inspection remained unfulfilled before the incident on Friday. This failure to address the reported auto-pressurization problems raises concerns about the effectiveness of maintenance actions and overall safety procedures.

  15. Boeing is now claiming that it was all just a marketing stunt to introduce their new “Panoramic View” window option 🙂