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NTSB finds 'door plug' that fell from Alaska Airlines flight

Jan. 8 (UPI) -- The NTSB on Sunday said it found the "door plug" that flew off an Alaska Airlines' Boeing passenger jet in mid-flight on Friday and a harrowing string of events that forced the aircraft to make an emergency landing at Portland International Airport in Oregon.

Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference the door plug, which is actually a panel placed where an optional emergency exit can be installed in future use, was discovered by a Portland-area resident who found it in his backyard.

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"We're going to pick that up and make sure we begin analyzing it," said Homendy, who described the resident as a school teacher named "Bob."

Homendy said that the panel, which fell off the Boeing 737Max 9 shortly after takeoff from Portland International, was one of the keys to the investigation. She said it would be examined for its integrity, markings, the shape it was in when it was found and also compared to a similar door plug opposite it.

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"We've been on the ground for just 24 hours," Homendy said. "[the investigation] will take weeks.

During the news conference, Homendy gave a passionate plea to the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress to change the length of the cockpit voice recorder taping time from two hours to 25 hours after saying that Alaska Airlines' recording of the time when the door plug fell off the plane was inadvertently overwritten.

She said the 25-hour recording time is standard in Europe and other countries.

"The cockpit voice recorder is not just convenient for the NTSB to use in an investigation or the FAA," Homendy said. "It is critical."

She said while current airplanes could be retrofitted with devices that would allow cockpit voice recorders to have longer recording times but it would be up to FAA or Congress to step in and mandate it to be done.

"That is unfortunately a loss for us because that information is key not just for our investigation but for improving aviation safety."

Homendy said two cell phones from the flight were discovered that could help in the investigation. She said one was found on someone's home property and the other along the shoulder of a road.

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In initial interviews, Homendy called the work of the crew during the flight "heroic" but also "chaotic" because of the lack of communication between the cockpit and the flight crew in the cabin, something that will also be investigated.

She said damage was found along 12 rows of the airplane from Row 1 through Row 33. Homendy said no one was sitting in Row 26 where the door plug dislodged from the airplane.

Part of the investigation will include air pressurization alerts that went off on the plane on Dec. 7 and twice last week before Friday's flight. That led to officials refusing to let the plane fly to a scheduled trip to Hawaii until a more thorough inspection later.

She said it was not clear if the alerts were connected to the door plug.

Homendy said the alerts had been described as "benign" but clarified that was what the airline told the agency, not the NTSB's own assessment.

The investigation hopes to solve some of the mysteries as to why there was a "loud boom" following a strong gust of wind when Alaska Airlines lost its door plug early Friday evening, leaving frightened passengers clinging to their seats until the plane made its emergency landing.

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