Home News F.B.I. Tells Passengers on Alaska Flight They May Have Been Crime Victims

F.B.I. Tells Passengers on Alaska Flight They May Have Been Crime Victims

F.B.I. Tells Passengers on Alaska Flight They May Have Been Crime Victims


Passengers aboard an Alaska Airlines plane that made an emergency landing after a fuselage panel blew off this year have started to receive letters from the F.B.I. identifying them as possible victims of a crime.

The letters are a sign that a criminal investigation the Justice Department has opened into Boeing, the manufacturer of the 737 Max 9 jet, is ramping up.

“As a victim specialist with the Seattle division, I’m contacting you because we have identified you as a possible victim of a crime,” reads the letter from the F.B.I.’s Seattle office, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. The letter says the incident is under criminal F.B.I. investigation but adds that such inquiries can be lengthy and that “for several reasons, we cannot tell you about its progress at this time.”

The panel on the flight, which was carrying 171 passengers and six crew members, blew off at an altitude of 16,000 feet, shortly after the plane left the Portland, Ore., airport in early January. The National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report that the panel, known as a door plug and used to fill space that would have been occupied by an emergency exit door if the plane had included more seats, was missing four bolts meant to secure it in place.

Steve Bernd, a spokesman for the F.B.I.’s Seattle office, declined to comment on the criminal investigation. Boeing also declined to comment. The company has previously said it is cooperating with the inquiry.

Mark Lindquist, a lawyer for some of the passengers, said his clients welcomed the investigation. “We want answers, accountability and safer Boeing planes,” he said. “The D.O.J. brings a large hammer to those goals.”

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that investigators had contacted some passengers and crew members.

The investigation is among the mounting troubles for Boeing, which include a recent Federal Aviation Administration audit that found problems in its manufacturing process. The Justice Department is also reviewing a 2021 settlement of a criminal charge against the company stemming from deadly crashes involving its Max 8 planes. In that case, the department had agreed to drop the charge in exchange for payment of more than $2.5 billion by Boeing, most of it in the form of compensation to customers.

Federal investigators said they were still working to get the names of the employees who had worked on the door plug that blew out. Boeing has told members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the National Transportation Safety Board that it could not find a record with the information.


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