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The Boeing 737 airplane used in Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 that experienced a nightmarish in-flight situation in January has been inspected. The plane lost its left mid exit door (MED) plug at about 16,000 feet. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its preliminary report, and the details are eye-widening.

After taking off from Portland, the MED plug flew off the side of the plane. The cabin experienced rapid decompression. The suction effect was so strong that it ripped the shirt off of a 15-year-old passenger. The captain’s head was pushed into the head-up display, and the co-pilot’s headset flew completely off. The incident ended with minor injuries to seven passengers and one flight attendant.

The Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft had already been utilized in 510 flight hours with Alaska Airlines. The airline had received the plane in October 2023. According to the NTSB report, Alaska Airlines had elected MED plugs where emergency exit doors would normally reside. These plugs are meant to make passenger quarters more comfortable by allowing folks a bit of additional space. The door would not be visible from the cabin interior. The plug’s outer facade contains a full window, no outer door handle, and zero distinguishable markings.

Why were bolts missing on the Boeing 737 MED plug?

The Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 with its MED door ripped off shown from the interior cabin with damaged seats in foregound
Alaska Airlines’ Boeing 737 after the accident on January 5, 2023 | Courtesy of the National Transportation Safety Board

Once a plane is fitted with a MED plug, it is secured using four bolts. There are two upper and two lower. This particular door plug landed in someone’s backyard and was shipped to the NTSB for inspection. The NTSB concluded that the plug guides and hinges were missing contact damage where they would have found evidence of previously installed bolts. The bolt holes were also missing signs of deformation that would have happened when the plug tore from the plane. All of this indicates that the bolts simply weren’t present when the plug was ripped away.

What’s more, the report also discovered that Boeing found rivet damage on the MED plug back in September 2023. This was after the plug was delivered from Spirit AeroSystems and installed on the plane. In order to repair the plug, it had to be removed and reinstalled. Repairs were completed by September 19th. Photos provided by Boeing show the bolts were indeed missing after they reinstalled the MED plug and went to cover the door from the cabin interior. Unfortunately, Boeing proceeded to cover the plug without bolts and delivered the plane to Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines has 231 Boeing 737 airplanes and has since issued revised inspection instructions for 737s equipped with MED plugs.

The report’s findings remind any service and maintenance crew that double-checking fundamental components is vital. No safety measure is too small to skip. The service and repair industry, especially any skilled labor role, continues to be a challenging sector to fill in the U.S.