More problems for Boeing after hole opens in plane body during flight

All 737 MAX-9 planes grounded pending safety investigation

Lesson #
February 12, 2024

A key part blew off the body of a Boeing 737-MAX plane shortly after takeoff, ripping the shirt of a passenger and causing a drop in cabin air pressure. The plane landed safely, but America's FAA has opened an investigation into the plane's safety. It was the latest setback for Boeing, one of the two biggest global plane manufacturers.


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Transcript

Simple TranscriptEspañol中文FrançaisPortuguês日本語ItalianoDeutschTürkçePolski

A pretty part important part flew off the side of an airplane at 16,000 feet. Everyone survived. But this was not supposed to happen

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone. It’s Jeff. And yeah, this was not supposed to happen. Can you imagine? You’re sitting on an airplane, minding your own business, and then a hole opens up in the side of the plane? Yikes.

Anyway, this is Plain English, where we help you upgrade your English with stories about current events and trending topics. You get to hear about, think about, and talk about what’s going on in the world…all in English, your new language. That’s what we do here. And then as a special bonus, we also show you how to use common English expressions. Today’s expression is going to be “turn around.” That’s coming up in the second half of the episode.

This is episode 648, so that means JR has uploaded the full transcript and all the lesson resources to PlainEnglish.com/648.

With that out of the way, let’s get going on today’s story.

More trouble for Boeing after key part falls off plane mid-air

A loud bang is not a sound you expect to hear on a flight.

But that’s exactly what passengers heard on Alaska Airlines flight 1292 on Friday, January 5. About twenty minutes into a short flight from Portland to Ontario, California, passengers heard what sounded like an explosion. The plane dropped a little in altitude and the oxygen masks fell from the overhead compartments.

A part of the fuselage had blown off the side of the plane, at an altitude of 16,000 feet (or about 4,900 meters). Passengers seated near row 26 looked out on a huge hole in the side of the plane. Passengers seated elsewhere had no idea what was going on…but they knew it wasn’t good.

Air pressure immediately dropped inside the cabin. Loose belongings were sucked out of the plane: a teddy bear, a cell phone. The whoosh of air ripped the shirt off a 15-year-old boy. The boy himself would have been sucked out of the plane had he not been wearing his seatbelt. The pilot radioed air traffic control, reporting the loss in pressure. He calmly descended and turned the plane around .

The plane made an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon just a few minutes later: incredibly, nobody was seriously injured. It helps that nobody was sitting in the row with the hole, but clearly this could have been so much more serious.

How could this have happened?

It helps to take a closer look at the aircraft itself . The plane was a brand-new Boeing 737 MAX-9. It had been delivered to Alaska Airlines only in October 2023 and placed into service the next month. The 737-MAX is a mid-size plane that airlines use for their most popular domestic routes.

The fuselage is the body of the plane. Planes are customizable, even within the same model. Some airlines configure the MAX 9 with over 200 seats. If they do that, they need an additional emergency exit door. The standard fuselage has a hole where that door could go. But Alaska configured its MAX 9’s with about 190 seats, so the extra door wasn’t needed.

Instead, they had a “door plug” in that hole. To passengers, row 26 looked just like any other row. But a door plug filled the hole in the fuselage where an emergency door could have gone. The plug is the part that blew off the plane mid-air and landed in someone’s backyard.

After the incident, the American Federal Aviation Administration grounded all 737 MAX-9’s and began an investigation.

Attention quickly turned to two companies: Boeing, the plane maker, and Spirit AeroSystems, the manufacturer of the body. It might come as a surprise that Boeing didn’t make the fuselage, the body of the plane. But it’s not that unusual.

Modern jet airplanes might have parts and systems made from 1,000 suppliers or more: these suppliers are smaller companies that you’ve probably never heard of. The jets engines, the windows, the wings, the electronics, the landing gear: they all might be made by different subcontractors.

Spirit AeroSystems is just one of those many suppliers, and Spirit was in charge of the fuselage and the door plug. Spirit is based in Wichita, Kansas, and it also supplies Airbus, Bombardier, Sikorski helicopters, and other private plane manufacturers.

So both Boeing and Spirit will be subject to the FAA’s investigation. Both companies say they are cooperating fully. The FAA will investigate the manufacturing processes and safety procedures of both companies. And the agency is increasing its oversight of Boeing’s current production lines. The FAA may order a third party to audit manufacturing safety at Boeing. Boeing is still making new units of this model.

Meanwhile , investigators are also taking a detailed look at what happened on Alaska Airlines flight 1292. They have a few clues to work with. First, in the weeks prior to the incident, a cockpit warning light had gone on, alerting pilots to low cabin pressure. Alaska couldn’t find the source of the warning, but as a precaution they had restricted the MAX-9’s to flights over land only.

Second, investigators recovered the door plug. The 28-kilogram part was found in the backyard of a local science teacher. Metallurgists will be examining the part to determine what specific parts failed in the moments before the incident.

For now , the MAX 9 remains grounded in the U.S. Regulators in other countries, including the E.U., have followed suit . Airlines had to cancel flights and substitute older planes for the MAX 9’s for the time being .

Jeff’s take

If the name Boeing 737 MAX rings a bell, it’s because it was involved in a few terrible plane crashes a few years back, one in Indonesia and one in Ethiopia. We talked about it in Lesson 139 .

Plain English Lesson 333 came out on January 28, 2021. We talked about how the 737 MAX was allowed to fly again, after having been grounded for two years. At the time, I said that I’d be comfortable flying on a 737 MAX. I said, this has got to be the most scrutinized plane of all time, so it must be safe. That’s what I said. And now this.

¿Hablas español?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into Spanish. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

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Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

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你说中国话?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parlez-vous français?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Você fala português?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

日本語は話せますか?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parli italiano?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sen Türkçe konuşmayı biliyor musun?

The transcripts of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Turkish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Mówisz po polsku?

The transcript of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Polish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

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