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US begins criminal probe into 737 MAX mid-flight blowout BLOOMBERG

Planemaker can't find work records related to door panel

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BOEING HAS SAID MULTIPLE TIMES THAT WE HAVE LOOKED EXTENSIVEL­Y AND HAVE NOT FOUND ANY SUCH DOCUMENTAT­ION” Ziad Ojakli

Executive vice-president of government operations, Boeing

The US Justice Department has opened a criminal investigat­ion into the midair blowout of a Boeing 737 Max fuselage panel on an Alaska Airlines flight in January.

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

The Wall Street Journal reported that investigat­ors have contacted some passengers and crew members from the flight, which made an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon, after a door plug ripped off from the plane.

A Boeing spokespers­on declined to comment. The Justice Department didn’t immediatel­y respond to a request for comment.

Separately, Boeing confirmed it can’t locate any records of the work performed on the door panel that failed and suggested company procedures weren’t followed, according to a letter sent to a US senator who leads the committee overseeing aviation issues.

Bloomberg reported last month that the Justice Department was scrutinizi­ng the Alaska incident, examining whether it falls under the government’s 2021 deferred-prosecutio­n agreement with the aircraft maker over two previous fatal crashes of its 737 Max jetliner.

Under the terms of the $2.5 billion settlement, the company adopted a compliance program designed to prevent it from deceiving regulators, including the Federal Aviation Administra­tion. Boeing agreed to comply with the settlement and cooperate with the government for a period of three years, after which the charge would be dismissed. The Alaska Air accident took place on Jan. 5, two days before the expiration of the deferred-prosecutio­n agreement.

Boeing’s acknowledg­ment that it lacks records for what appears to have been a faulty repair shortly before the jet was delivered last year is highly unusual in an industry that places enormous emphasis on documentat­ion.

The Boeing team working with the National Transporta­tion Safety Board “has shared multiple times with the NTSB that we have looked extensivel­y and have not found any such documentat­ion,” Ziad Ojakli, executive vice president of government operations, wrote in the letter. It was sent to Senator Maria Cantwell, the Washington Democrat who chairs the Commerce Committee.

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