A school teacher who found the missing chunk of plane that blew off mid-flight on Friday has described the “unbelievable” moment he found the panel intact in his garden.
Alaska Airlines was forced to perform an emergency landing after a door plug was torn off of the Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane flying 171 passengers from Portland in Oregon, to Ontario in California.
With a gaping hole in the side of the plane, the cabin was rapidly depressurised – causing oxygen masks to immediately drop and cutting communication between pilots and crew.
That door-shaped panel ended up in the back garden of Bob Sauer, a secondary school physics teacher from Portland, and authorities believe the piece to be key to their investigation.
“It was unbelievable that that thing that people had been looking for all weekend happened to be in my yard,” Mr Sauer told Sky News’s US partner network NBC News.
After a neighbour suggested he look for debris on Sunday, he eventually took his torch that night and spotted something “gleaming and white” among the cedar trees he’d planted 20 years ago.
“My heart did start beating a little fast at that point because I thought ‘oh my goodness, people have been looking for
this all weekend and it looks like it is in my backyard’,” he said.
Mr Sauer reached out to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), whose investigators asked for a photo after a separate find turned out to be just a fluorescent light fixture.
He said he and the seven NTSB agents who came to his home to pick up the door plug were amazed it was intact, with tree branches appearing to have broken the fall.
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While he said he used the episode to demonstrate some elements of physics to his students, he said more time was spent talking about his new-found fame when he returned to school.
“By the time I got to school, pretty much the whole school knew about it,” he said.
NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said they offered to send agents to Mr Sauer’s class for a presentation on how the agency conducts investigations, but Mr Sauer declined.
“If it wasn’t finals week I would have tried to take them up on that,” he said.