US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair Jennifer Homendy refutes a whistleblower’s claim that Boeing concealed key documents related to the Alaska Airlines flight 1282 accident in January.

“I believe the whistleblower has the ship-side tracker, which we already have, [and] is not the documents we are looking for,” she told FlightGlobal on 17 April in Washington, DC. “We’re looking for other documents that don’t exist.”

The “ship-side tracker” is an non-authoritative communication system used by Boeing workers, not the company’s authoritative records database.

Door plug

Source: NTSB

Preliminary NTSB findings suggest Boeing workers failed to secure the door plug that later failed on an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9

Homendy was responding to comments made the same day by Ed Pierson, a whistleblower and former manager on Boeing’s 737 line, during a subcommittee hearing of the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Government Affairs.

“NTSB has said there are no records documenting the removal of the door,” Pierson told the subcommittee. “This is a criminal cover up. Records do in fact exist. I know this because I have personally passed them to the FBI. Boeing’s corporate leaders continue to conceal the truth.”

The conflicting claims are over documentation of work done at Boeing’s Renton assembly site on the door plug of a then-in-production 737 Max 9. Several weeks after delivering the jet to Alaska Airlines, the plug failed during a flight, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the jet. The pilots landed with no serious injuries to passengers or crew.

The NTSB’s preliminary report suggests Boeing workers failed to install bolts to secure the plug. But Boeing told the NTSB it lacks records about the work, including which employees were involved.

“We still do not know who performed the work to open, reinstall and close the door plug on the accident aircraft,” Homendy wrote in a letter to the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation on 13 March. “Boeing has informed us that they are unable to find the records documenting this work. The absence of those records will complicate the NTSB’s investigation moving forward.”

In a 10 April hearing, Homendy added that Boeing is “working very well with us… They have provided us with all the documents that we’ve asked for that exist. They are aware that this record does not exist. They are equally concerned about the process here and the escape”.

Boeing declines to comment about Pierson’s allegation, as does the FBI. Reports have said the agency is investigating the door-plug incident.

Pierson, in testimony, did not specify what documents he was referring to.

The Max 9 involved in the Alaska accident was delivered to the airline by Boeing on 31 October, barely two months before the accident.

Additional reporting by Jon Hemmerdinger