Alaska Airlines Passenger: ‘A Seatbelt Saved His Life’

By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
4 Min Read
An NTSB investigator inspects a door plug on an Alaska Airlines jet.
Photo Credit: NTSB

Cuong Tran’s life was saved by his seatbelt when the side of the aircraft tore away leaving a door sized hole just in front of his Row 27 window seat on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, according to his attorney.

The plane rapidly decompressed as air rushed out of the hole, pulling on everything inside, including Tran and others nearby.

A lawsuit has now been filed, seeking damages in relation to the Alaska Airlines flight 1282 incident.

The Events in Question

Cuong Tran narrowly escaped a life-threatening situation when the aircraft he was on experienced a rapid decompression.

Seated in Row 27 by the window, Tran was mere feet away from a door-sized hole that tore open in the fuselage’s side.

The sudden rush of air exerted immense force, yanking off Tran’s shoes and socks. He felt himself lifting off his seat as the plane climbed through 16,000 feet above Portland.

The powerful suction pulled his legs towards the gaping opening, trapping his foot in the seat structure ahead and causing injury.

Tran was one of seven passengers who have now filed a lawsuit against the responsible parties. The suit seeks damages for physical and psychological trauma they endured during the inflight incident on January 5th.

NTSB Recovers Missing Door Plug from Alaska Airlines 1282
Photo Credit: NTSB.

King County Court Case

The case (No. 24-2-05657-2) was brought to the King County Superior Court on March 14th.

“Our clients, and likely every passenger, suffered unnecessary trauma due to Boeing, Spirit AeroSystems, and Alaska Airlines’ failure to ensure the aircraft’s safe and airworthy condition,” stated aviation attorney Timothy A. Loranger of Los Angeles law firm Wisner Baum.

The event unfolded when the left mid-exit door plug violently separated from the Boeing 737 Max 9’s fuselage.

This door plug is designed to seal the emergency exit row, allowing normal seating. Revealed since the incident, the securing bolts for the assembly were apparently missing.

NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282
Photo Credit: NTSB.

Cuong’s friend Huy Tran, seated beside him, described the sound as a deafening explosion. Behind them, the Tran family – Ket, Tram Vo, and their three young sons – were also fearful as the 737 decompressed rapidly.

They are now undergoing counseling to cope with the trauma, according to Loranger.

The lawsuit alleges negligence, product defect liability, and a failure to protect passengers from harm. It seeks punitive, compensatory, and general damages from the defendants.

NTSB Investigation Ongoing

The NTSB’s preliminary report found that four bolts securing the door plug were missing. While the plug itself seemed manufactured correctly, the investigation is focusing on how the bolts went missing. It also seeks to answer the question of why standard procedures weren’t followed.

The investigation has shifted to a broader focus, with the NTSB scheduling a public investigative hearing in August 2024. There’s also a separate criminal investigation by the Department of Justice underway.

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By Len Varley Assistant Editor
Now the Assistant Editor with AviationSource, I have almost 40 years' experience in aviation, starting in Australian flight crew and training. I worked as CFI/Chief Pilot with 2 organisations and was also a CASA approved testing officer and aeronautics lecturer. This led to components procurement for civil operators and the RAAF, and then maintenance programming with a global airborne geo-survey operator.