Alaska Airlines halts operations for 65 Boeing 737-9 jets following a midair fuselage blowout on a flight originating from Portland.
PORTLAND, Oregon (ADN) – An Alaska Airlines flight was forced to return to Portland International Airport after a section of the fuselage suddenly blew out of the plane Friday evening with a big boom and a rush of air through a gaping hole, passengers said.
The seat next to the destroyed section of the plane was unoccupied but the force ripped the shirt off a teenager in the middle seat, leaving his skin reddened and legs bruised from the sudden decompression, passengers said.
There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
Flight data showed the plane climbed to 16,000 feet before returning to Portland. The airline said the plane landed safely with 174 passengers and six crew members.
The 5 p.m. flight, was originally headed to Ontario, California.
Alaska released a statement from CEO Ben Minicucci that said Flight 1282 “experienced an incident this evening soon after departure,” but didn’t give any more information about what happened.
Alaska late Friday grounded all its 65 Boeing 737-9 aircraft and will return them to service after safety inspections.
“Following tonight’s event on Flight 1282, we have decided to take the precautionary step of temporarily grounding our fleet of 65 Boeing 737-9 aircraft,” Minicucci said in a statement. “My heart goes out to those who were on this flight – I am so sorry for what you experienced.”
Each of the aircraft will be returned to service after full maintenance and safety inspections, which Minicucci said the airline anticipated completing within days.
“We are working with Boeing and regulators to understand what occurred tonight, and will share updates as more information is available,” he said.
The plane was diverted about six minutes after taking off at 5:07 p.m., according to flight tracking data from the FlightAware website. It landed at 5:26 p.m. The pilot told Portland air traffic controllers the plane had an emergency, was depressurized and needed to return to the airport, according to a recording made by the website LiveATC.net.
People on the flight shared photos on social media that showed a large hole in the side of the plane and what looked like insulation exposed. Other photos showed air tubes hanging down from the ceiling in the plane’s cabin. Exterior photos suggested the missing section was an aft door that had been covered with a wall panel and window from the inside.
A 20-year-old passenger said she heard “a really loud boom” about 20 minutes into the flight.
“It sounded like your ears were popping like normally on a plane, but 10 times louder,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it was real.”
Emergency breathing masks descended from the ceiling and a hole had opened behind the plane’s left wing where a section of wall with a window in it had been, she said. She gave her name only as Elizabeth and asked that her last name not be used for privacy reasons.
Instead of descending into chaos, an eerie stillness took over, she said.
“I was just praying that everything would be OK,” she said in a phone interview. “We were all calm, but I did feel like I was about to cry, because who knows this could be my last few moments.”
She said the teenager and his mother who was with him were moved to other seats by flight attendants.
“His mom had to drag him back into the plane,” she said. “I don’t know where they are now, but everyone was OK.”
Flight attendants made several announcements, but passengers were unable to hear over the sound of rushing wind. The crew eventually circulated through the plane to check for injuries and ensure everyone was belted into their seats.
“It was deathly silent. Nobody made a noise,” another passenger, 29-year-old Kyle Rinker, said in a text message to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “You could feel the plane shake a little because of the air pressure difference.”
The FAA registry shows the Boeing 737-9 was almost brand new, manufactured in 2023 and certified in November.
This is at least the second emergency landing at Portland International Airport in 75 days. An off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot, Joseph Emerson, faces criminal charges for allegedly attempting to cut the engines of a packed flight that made an emergency landing at PDX on Oct. 22.
By Zane Sparling, oregonlive.com, Additional information from the Associated Press.