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Portland Physics Teacher Finds Missing Door From Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 in Backyard

Leo Timm
Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: January 11, 2024
Science teacher Mr. Bob Sauer speaks with Reuters about the missing plug from the Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 that fell in his backyard on Jan. 5, 2024. (Image: Reuters)

Bob Sauer, a high school science teacher in Portland, Oregon, discovered the door that blew off the fuselage of the Alaska Airlines jet on Friday, Jan. 5, and forced the Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft to make an emergency landing.

None of the 171 passengers or six crew members on board were injured, but the rapid decompression of the cabin caused the emergency oxygen masks to drop from the ceiling. 

Luckily, the aircraft in the incident did not have seating in the exit row. The event caused the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ground all MAX 9s of that configuration, which have a “plug” in place of a traditional emergency exit row door.

The plug discovered in Mr. Sauer’s backyard. (Image: NSTB handout via Reuters)

The plug had been missing for two days before Mr. Sauer, prompted by a neighbor in their Cedar Hills suburban community, decided to look for it in his backyard on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 7.

Sauer, who teaches at the Catlin Gabel private school, described how he spotted with his flashlight “something gleaming white underneath the trees in the back that isn’t normally there,” he said in an interview with Reuters.

NSTB personnel handle the fallen plug. (Image: NSTB handout via Reuters)

“It was very obviously part of a plane. It had the same curvature as a fuselage, it had a plane type window in it, and it was white,” he said.

“I wasn’t expecting to find it. So it was actually a friend of mine who lives in the neighborhood who suggested that I go check my back yard because people were looking everywhere around for the door and nobody had found it yet.”

The door, which fell from an altitude of 16,000 feet, had its impact cushioned by the woods that Mr. Sauer had planted on his property.

In the morning of Jan. 8, personnel from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) inspected the door and took it away for more testing in Washington state after Mr. Sauer reported his find.

Mr. Sauer noted that coincidentally, he had just been teaching his students about impulse and momentum.

“The trees acted like an airbag and made for a longer stop and a lower force. So I don’t think that the door was damaged at all by the fall.”