US prosecutors open criminal investigation into Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 blowout

surges in the wake of the incident, which prompted the aircraft to make an emergency landing shortly after takeoff. The incident, which saw a 14-by-16-inch (36-by-41-centimeter) piece of the plane's skin detach over the Seattle-to-Honolulu flight's midsection, prompted the FAA to convene a panel to investigate potential widespread issues with the aircraft model's skin erosion. Prosecutors in the United States have opened a criminal investigation into the mid-flight blowout involving a Boeing 737 MAX operated by Alaska Airlines, according to US media reports.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has interviewed witnesses including aircrew as part of the probe into the incident, which occurred on January 5, 2023.

The investigation comes amid heightened scrutiny of Boeing's safety record following fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019. Prosecutors will assess whether the company has adhered to the terms of a $2.5bn settlement agreed in 2021 to avoid prosecution over the 737 MAX crashes. The DOJ probe will inform authorities' assessment of whether Boeing has complied with the terms of a $2.5bn settlement to avoid prosecution in relation to those crashes, the Wall Street Journal reported.

On Monday, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it had identified "non-compliance issues in Boeing's manufacturing process control, parts handling and storage, and product control" following an audit of the company that included interviews with employees and a visit to its production line.

The FAA said Boeing would have 90 days to correct the issues. A separate FAA report, released last month but launched before the blowout incident, found serious problems with Boeing's safety culture, including fears of retaliation among employees with safety concerns.

Boeing said in a letter to the US Congress on Friday that it was unable to locate records for work carried out on the door panel that fell off the Alaska Airlines plane. The Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer has said it believes that records about the panel were never created despite company rules requiring such documentation.

Alaska Airlines said it was cooperating with authorities. "In an event like this, it's normal for the DOJ to be conducting an investigation. We are fully cooperating and do not believe we are a target of the investigation," Alaska Airlines said in a statement to Al Jazeera.

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