Alaska Airlines grounds 737 Max 9 planes after section blows out mid-air

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Alaska Airlines grounds 737 Max 9 planes after section blows out mid-air

A passenger plane lost a section of its fuselage in mid-air forcing it to make an emergency landing in the US state of Oregon.

The Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 turned back minutes into its flight to California after an outer section, including a window, fell off on Friday.

There were 177 passengers and crew on board and it landed safely in Portland.

The airline said it would temporarily ground all 65 of its 737 Max 9 aircraft to conduct inspections.

Boeing said it was aware of the incident and was “working to gather more information”.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority told the BBC it was “monitoring the situation very closely”.

Evan Smith, one of the 171 passengers on board, said: “There was a really loud bang towards the left rear of the plane and a woosh noise – and all the air masks dropped.

“They said there was a kid in that row who had his shirt was sucked off him and out of the plane and his mother was holding onto him to make sure he didn’t go with it.”

Diego Murillo said the gap was “as wide as a refrigerator”.

Fellow passenger Elizabeth Lee added: “Part of the plane was missing and the wind was just extremely loud. but everyone was in their seats and had their belt on.”

Jessica Montoia described the flight as a “trip from hell” adding a phone was taken out of a man’s hand by the wind.

Announcing the grounding of the 65 planes, Alaska Airlines’ CEO Ben Minicucci said: “Each aircraft will be returned to service only after completion of full maintenance and safety inspections.”

The flight to Ontario, California, had reached 16,000ft (4,876m) when it began its emergency descent, according to flight tracking data.

Images sent to news outlets show the night sky visible through the gap in the fuselage, with insulation material and other debris also seen.

Other pictures show the seat closest to the affected section, a window seat that passengers said was unoccupied, leaning forward without its cushion.

“My heart goes out to those who were on this flight – I am so sorry for what you experienced,” Mr Minicucci said. “I am so grateful for the response of our pilots and flight attendants.”

‘We’re an emergency’
In an audio clip, the pilot can be heard talking to air traffic control requesting a diversion.

“We are an emergency,” she said. “We are depressurised, we do need to return back.”

According to photographs, the affected area was in the back third of the plane, behind the wing and engines.