A pop, a boom, a big bang: Alaska Airlines passengers describe the moment a piece of the plane fell off

One woman said she heard a “big bang” and when she looked up “the oxygen masks were hanging from the ceiling.”


Passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight that was forced to make an emergency landing when part of the fuselage fell off midair said the ordeal was loud and terrifying.

Evan Granger, a passenger seated in exit row seat 16F, said he heard a “loud boom” followed by “a gust of wind coming in” at about 20 minutes into the flight on Friday. He said both of his ears became plugged.

A photo of a panel of a plane blown out on an Alaska Airlines flight from Portland to Ontario, Calif., on Friday.Courtesy Kyle Rinker

“I didn’t want to look back to see what was happening,” Granger told NBC News.My focus in that moment was just breathe into the oxygen mask and trust that the flight crew will do everything they can to keep us safe.”

Granger acknowledged “there are so many things that had to go right in order for all of us to have survived,” adding that he is “very grateful” that they were able to land safely.

Elizabeth Le of Portland, Oregon, said the flight was about 20 minutes into its route from Portland to Ontario, California, on Friday when she heard a loud noise.

“All of a sudden I heard like a big bang and I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I look up and the oxygen masks were hanging from the ceiling,” Le told Southern California news outlet OC Hawk. “And then I look to my left and there’s this huge chunk, part of the airplane is like missing.”

Le said “extremely loud” wind rushed into the plane, but passengers stayed in their seats and kept their seatbelts on.

“I couldn’t really think straight because of how loud the wind was,” she said.

She added: “I just couldn’t believe my eyes. There’s a gaping hole. You could see the city and the stars and everything just outside of the window. It was crazy.”

Le said no one was sitting in the window seat of the row directly next to where the part of the plane fell off, but a mom and son were in the middle and aisle seats of that row.

Le said she heard afterward that the mom had to hold her teenage son tightly to keep him from being sucked out of the plane, adding that his shirt had flown off and he looked very red, likely from the intense wind.

Nicholas Hoch, a 33-year-old architect from Portland who was on board, told NBC News he was starting to contact family members for fear he wouldn’t survive the ordeal. 

“Those first few moments were disorienting, alarming, terrifying. Then the moments that followed, that kind of pressure and anxiety and those fears kind of bubbled up even more,” he said. “I was starting to text my girlfriend and my mom, my other loved ones and didn’t know if I was gonna make it.”

He recalled being in the air for a brief period minutes before a “boom or mini explosion” went off in the back of the plane. 

"I heard it, felt it a little rattle, followed by an instantaneous depressurization of the cabin, which really consisted of like, of a cloud of vapor rushing through the plane," he said. "I think everyone was kind of looking around for what’s going on. The plane jolted a bit and then the oxygen mask fell down. And we got those on as quickly as we could."

He said there wasn't much communication from the cockpit, but praised the crew for doing their jobs "incredibly well."

Still, he felt a wary feeling.

"There’s still that kind of unknown sense of are we crash landing this plane? Your mind just kind of going to all these different places. So I was gripping on really tight, I was bracing myself for the worst situation. And then once we landed, everyone started clapping and there’s kind of a collective sigh of relief," Hoch said.

Another passenger, Jessica Montoya, told OC Hawk the plane had just reached 10,000 feet when part of the wall seemingly detached.

“We flew for another three or four minutes, and then we heard this pop and all the oxygen masks came down,” she said. “I wasn’t afraid. I don’t know why. No one really screamed or anything.” 

Montoya said she spoke to someone after the incident who told her that his shirt and phone were “sucked out” of the aircraft.

“It was a trip from hell,” Montoya said.

A photo from a passenger showed an entire panel missing from a side of the aircraft next to a row of seats. The panel, known as a door plug, detached from the plane at about 16,000 feet in the air, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said during a news conference Saturday night.

Passenger Stan Sigstad also described hearing a “pop noise” followed by strong wind that came “forward and then it came back, it hit me in the face,” he said.

Sigstad also said he wasn’t afraid.

“I was a little bit nervous,” he said to OC Hawk. “But I told God, ‘I trust you.’”

The Federal Aviation Administration said the crew had “reported a pressurization issue” when the plane part disengaged, leaving a gaping hole.

Le, Montoya and Sigstad all noted how surprisingly calm the passengers and crew were during the flight.

Montoya praised the flight attendants for staying calm and Sigstad added the “calmness” of the pilot’s voice is what “kept everyone calm.”

Flight 1282, which was carrying 174 passengers and six crew members, landed safely back at Portland International Airport.

The FAA ordered some Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft temporarily grounded for inspections, affecting about 171 planes worldwide.