By AUDREY McAVOY and DAVID KOENIG
Federal officials on Saturday ordered the immediate grounding of some Boeing 737 Max 9 jetliners until they are inspected after an Alaska Airlines plane suffered a blowout that left a gaping hole in the side of the fuselage.
The required inspections take around four to eight hours per aircraft and affect about 171 airplanes worldwide.
Alaska Airlines said in a statement that of the 65 737 Max 9 aircraft in its fleet, crews had inspected the paneled-over exits as part of recent maintenance work on 18 planes, and those were cleared to return to service Saturday. Inspections for the remaining aircraft were expected to be completed in the coming days, the company said.
An Alaska Airlines jetliner blew out a portion of its fuselage shortly after takeoff 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) above Oregon late Friday, forcing the pilots to make an emergency landing as its 171 passengers and six crew members donned oxygen masks.
No one was seriously hurt as the depressurized plane returned safely to Portland International Airport about 20 minutes after departure.
Passenger Evan Smith said a boy and his mother were sitting in the row where the panel blew out, and the child’s shirt was sucked off him and out of the plane.
“You heard a big loud bang to the left rear. A whooshing sound and all the oxygen masks deployed instantly and everyone got those on,” Smith told KATU-TV.
The National Transportation Safety Board said Saturday it will investigate.