Alaska Airlines 737 Plane Blowout Under DOJ Criminal Investigation, Report Says

DOJ opens criminal investigation into the Alaska Airlines 737 plane blowout, report says

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal on Saturday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has initiated a criminal investigation into the Boeing jetliner incident that resulted in a significant damage to an Alaska Airlines aircraft back in January.

Based on information from documents and individuals familiar with the situation, investigators have reached out to several passengers and crew members, including pilots and flight attendants, who were aboard the flight on January 5th when the incident occurred.

The Alaska Airlines-operated Boeing plane experienced the blowout merely seven minutes after departing from Portland, Oregon, compelling the pilots to execute an emergency landing.

This event heightened scrutiny on Boeing, particularly following a similar incident involving a Max 9 jet, where a panel meant to seal an extra emergency door detached. Fortunately, there were no severe injuries resulting from these incidents.

Alaska Airlines issued a statement affirming their cooperation with the DOJ investigation, stating, “In an event like this, it’s normal for the DOJ to be conducting an investigation. We are fully cooperating and do not believe we are a target of the investigation.” However, Boeing declined to comment, and the DOJ did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Alaska Airlines 737 Plane Blowout Under DOJ Criminal Investigation, Report Says
Alaska Airlines 737 Plane Blowout Under DOJ Criminal Investigation, Report Says (Credits: Buffalo News)

The Wall Street Journal indicated that this investigation would contribute to the DOJ’s examination of whether Boeing adhered to a previous settlement reached following a federal inquiry into the safety of its 737 Max aircraft subsequent to the tragic crashes in 2018 and 2019.

In 2021, Boeing consented to a $2.5 billion settlement, encompassing a $244 million fine, resolving the investigation into the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. The company attributed the flaws in the flight-control system to two employees who misled regulators.

Boeing confessed in a letter to Congress that it couldn’t locate records pertaining to work done on the door panel of the Alaska Airlines plane. Ziad Ojakli, Boeing’s executive vice president and chief government lobbyist, wrote to Senator Maria Cantwell, stating, “We have looked extensively and have not found any such documentation.”

Boeing speculated that the records regarding the panel’s removal and reinstallation on the 737 MAX final assembly line in Renton, Washington, were possibly never generated, despite Boeing’s system mandating it.

This revelation follows a contentious Senate committee hearing where Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) disputed over Boeing’s cooperation with investigators.

Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the safety board, testified that Boeing had repeatedly refused to disclose the identities of employees responsible for door panel work on Boeing 737s and failed to furnish documentation about a repair job that included removing and reinstalling the door panel.

Senator Cantwell demanded a response from Boeing within 48 hours. Shortly after the Senate hearing, Boeing claimed it had provided the NTSB with the names of all employees working on 737 doors and had previously shared some of them with investigators.

In a preliminary report, the NTSB revealed that four bolts crucial for securing the door plug were missing after the panel was removed for repairs last September.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted Boeing 90 days to address quality-control concerns identified by the agency and a panel comprising industry and government experts. Despite improvements made since the 2018 and 2019 crashes involving Max 8 jets, the panel identified issues in Boeing’s safety culture.

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