Justice Department Opens Probe Into Alaska Airlines Blowout

Skift Take

It’s unclear if this investigation is a new inquiry or if it’s related to a $2.5 billion settlement Boeing reached with the DOJ in 2021.

The U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the Alaska Airlines blowout incident that took place January 5, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Citing documents and people familiar with the investigation, The Journal reported that the DOJ has contacted some passengers and crew — including pilots and flight attendants — who were on the flight. 

A door plug on the fuselage of Alaska’s Max 9 suddenly blew off mid-air, prompting the plane to make an emergency landing. 

“In an event like this, it’s normal for the DOJ to be conducting an investigation,” Alaska said in a statement. “We are fully cooperating and do not believe we are a target of the investigation.”

The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Boeing declined to comment on the matter. 

Boeing reached a $2.5 billion settlement with the DOJ in 2021 after FBI special agents and the Department of Transportation investigated fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 related to the Max 8. As a result, the DOJ agreed to drop a charge that Boeing defrauded the Federal Aviation Administration by withholding key information on the Max 8. 

The DOJ may now need to determine whether Boeing complied with that settlement in the Alaska blowout, but it is unclear if this criminal investigation is related to the 2021 settlement or if it’s a separate inquiry. 

Boeing shares fell by around 3% Monday morning following the news of the DOJ investigation. 

Boeing Faces Growing Government Scrutiny

The DOJ investigation comes as National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy told a Senate committee March 6 that Boeing hadn’t provided crucial information related to the blowout. 

In particular, Homendy said Boeing had not provided the agency with the documentation of the work done on the door plug of Alaska’s Max 9 and the names of 25 employees who work with door plugs. After the hearing, the NTSB said it received the employees’ names but was still missing the documentation.

“It’s absurd that two months later we don’t have that,” Homendy said at the hearing.  

Boeing then acknowledged in a letter to Congress that it was missing the records of work done on the door plug. 

“We have looked extensively and have not found any such documentation,” Boeing lobbyist Ziad Ojakli wrote in a letter to Sen. Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. 

Boeing also said its “working hypothesis” was that documentation about the door plug was never created, even though it was required. 

The FAA gave Boeing 90 days to develop a plan to improve its quality control after the agency grounded the Max 9 for nearly one month and a report by an expert panel found that the plane maker’s safety culture was lacking. 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on “Fox News Sunday” that Boeing “needs to cooperate in every respect” to prove that it will improve quality. 

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