NTSB report finds crucial bolts missing from blown-out door plug on Boeing 737 MAX 9

A new report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that four critical bolts were missing from a door plug during a midair blowout aboard an Alaska Airlines flight in January.

Although previous investigations into Boeing 737 MAX 9s for Alaska and United Airlines had revealed that several bolts were loose on the planes, this new report reveals that the issue on the Jan. 5 flight was that the four key bolts that hold the door plug in place weren’t there at all.

“Overall, the observed damage patterns and absence of contact damage or deformation around holes associated with the vertical movement arrestor bolts and upper guide track bolts in the upper guide fittings, hinge fittings, and recovered aft lower hinge guide fitting indicate that the four bolts that prevent upward movement of the MED plug were missing before the MED [mid exit door] plug moved upward off the stop pads,” the NTSB report reads.

Earlier on Tuesday, Federal Aviation Administration Director Michael Whitaker was grilled by lawmakers in Washington, D.C., where he vowed to bring “a heightened level of oversight” to Boeing’s production facilities in the months to come.

He also said that he anticipates having inspectors on-site will be a permanent policy moving forward to ensure safety and compliance.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun responded to the NTSB’s findings shortly after they were released, admitting that “whatever final conclusions are reached, Boeing is accountable for what happened.”

“An event like this must not happen on an airplane that leaves our factory,” Calhoun added. “We simply must do better for our customers and their passengers.”

KIRO 7 spoke with Aviation Analyst John Nance.

“The key takeaway which validates what a lot of us in aviation were thinking is that there were no bolts in the four bolt positions that should have been there in that plug,” he said. “That means there was a quality control problem that was the nexus of what Boeing is already beginning to work on.”

Nance said Boeing failed in the situation with Alaska.

“Boeing is obligated to deliver not 99% perfection but 100% perfection which is really extraordinary considering it’s a human endeavor but that’s what they’ve got to do and they failed to do in the situation with Alaska.”

He emphasized that the most important thing is that changes are made so that something like this never happens again.

“All the things that the NTSB is talking about in this preliminary report are clues as to a much deeper examination that needs to take place,” Nance said. “And will take place to find out who said what to whom and why, not for purposes of blame, but for purposes of making sure the system is changed to where nothing can be closed up like that again without it being perfect.”