All Safe In Monday Alaska Airlines Incident
There are a lot of
questions in the aftermath of an incident aboard an Alaska Airlines
flight heading to Burbank Monday.
Before the MD-80 (file photo of type, below) left the gate in
Seattle, a baggage handler, contracted by the airport, bumped his
loading truck into the jet -- causing a 4-inch-long crease in the
thin aluminum skin of the aircraft's forward fuselage. The problem
went unnoticed -- and unreported -- by ground crews, and the
airliner took off uneventfully.
As the plane climbed through 26,000 feet, however, a loud
explosion was heard -- causing a loss of cabin pressure, a burning
smell in the cabin and several "absolutely terrifying" moments, in
the words of one passenger.
"Basically your ears popped, there's a really loud bang and
there was a lot of white noise. It was like somebody turned on a
leaf blower in your ear," said passenger Jeremy Hermanns to the
Oxygen masks dropped, and the pilot initiated an emergency
descent to allow passengers to breathe easier. The crew then guided
the stricken airliner back to Seattle, where it made a safe
As the 140 passengers onboard applauded the flight crew, those
on the ground discovered a one-foot-by-six-inch hole, about four
feet below the plane's windows -- in the area where, NTSB
investigators later determined, the skin had been creased by the
According to airport spokesman Bob Parker, Port of Seattle
police weren't notified about the ground incident until Tuesday,
when operations staffers for Alaska contacted them to fill out a
"hit-and-run" report on a contract employee who struck the aircraft
with a baggage tug.
Airline spokeswoman Caroline Boren said the airline conducted
safety briefings with employees at Sea-Tac on Tuesday, "to discuss
the importance of rapid and thorough reporting of any ground
incidents, whether there is apparent aircraft damage or not."
The incident puts added spotlight on the airline's decision
earlier this year to replace unionized ground personnel with
workers from London-based Menzies Aviation. As was reported in Aero-News,
472 workers were locked out from their jobs May 13, after rejecting
a contract proposal from the airline.
Representatives with Alaska said the airline saw an increase in
ground-damage incidents at Sea-Tac right after the switch, delaying
a large number of departures from the airport. The situation has
since returned to near normal, according to the airline.
Passengers aboard the stricken plane were herded back to the
terminal, where they waited for another plane.
"A lot of people were very stunned," said Hermanns about the
incident. "It was surreal."