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Details revealed about Boeing jet door that landed in Kent

A landing gear door lands in a Kent neighborhood in September after falling off a Boeing 767 cargo jet operated by ABX Air, Inc. FAA reports show the door fell because of loose bolt. - COURTESY PHOTO, FAA
A landing gear door lands in a Kent neighborhood in September after falling off a Boeing 767 cargo jet operated by ABX Air, Inc. FAA reports show the door fell because of loose bolt.
— image credit: COURTESY PHOTO, FAA

The landing gear door that fell last fall in a Kent neighborhood marked at least the 19th time that similar part has fallen off one of the many Boeing 767 jets around the world over the last 12 years.

The main landing gear shock strut door on the cargo jet dropped from the sky at about 6:45 a.m. Sept. 7. The door landed in the street just outside the home of Maureen Rinabarger in the 12800 block of Southeast 231st Way on the East Hill. The approximately 50-pound part, about the size of a refrigerator door, did not injure anyone or cause any damage.

But it definitely raised a lot of questions about the how and why a door suddenly would just drop off a plane as it headed to Boeing Field.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Boeing and ABX Air, Inc., the Ohio-based operator of the cargo jet, determined a loose bolt caused the door to fall off, according to FAA documents obtained by the Kent Reporter through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

"You're kidding, oh my gosh," Rinabarger said when told by a reporter about the previous 18 incidents of the part falling off the planes. "It's one of those things where you wonder what if it had hit a home. And my husband had just come in the door from walking the dog."

A neighbor had just pulled his car out of the driveway a few minutes before the plane's door slammed to the street. Just moments later that morning school children were walking down the street.

"All the ways it could have been horribly devastating," said Rinabarger, who has lived with her husband in the neighborhood for 34 years. "Thank goodness it didn't hit my husband or the dog or a kid but landed in the street."

After the FAA declined to release further details about the incident besides that a landing gear door had fallen from a Boeing 767, the Kent Reporter filed a FOIA request in February with the FAA. The agency last week mailed to the paper reports, photos, emails and a compact disc connected with the incident.

A few pages were partially redacted by the FAA under FOIA exemptions that protect trade secrets, confidential commercial or financial information as well as inter-agency memos and letters that would be considered privileged because of attorney work product and attorney-client privilege.

The details that were released included investigations of the incident by the FAA, Boeing and ABX Air.

"We had just talked a few days ago and wondered what had happened with all of that," Rinabarger said about the investigation.

The FAA, Boeing and ABX Air, agreed that a loose bolt caused the door to fall off about nine miles from its approach to Boeing Field.

"The loose bolt caused the bolt to wear over time and eventually led to the failure of the bolt," according to the analysis by ABX Air. "Once the mid-forward bolt fractured, this forced the door backward causing the remaining attachments to fracture and departure of the door."

The report also included a background statement from Boeing.

"Boeing previously received reports of loose and/or fractured MLG shock strut door attach hardware," according to documents. "Between 2000 and 2009 Boeing noted 18 cases of shock strut doors departing the airplane. Boeing has released Service Bulletins and Service Letters that provide instructions to inspect and install improved attachment hardware on the shock strut doors."

The bulletins and letters for the 767 jets were issued five times between 1993 and 2003.

A Boeing service bulletin issued in 2003 reported "approximately 50 fitting fractures (on the main gear strut doors) from seven different operators." The report continued, "some operators are flying airplanes with the strut door removed or do frequent inspections that are necessary because of temporary repairs."

Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman contacted Tuesday by email for further comment about the past problems with 767 landing gear doors said “at this point we can’t offer any comment or details.”

ABX Air, a subsidiary of Air Transport Services Group, has operated the 767-281 aircraft that dropped its door since 2003. All Nippon Airways and Airborne Express previously owned the jet built 28 years ago, according to www.planespotters.net/.

ABX Air inspected 33 of its 767 aircraft after the Kent incident, a total of 66 shock strut door installations. Inspectors found 54 parts to be fine, six loose bolts, five loose rods and one bushing worn.

"ABX does not consider these findings to be major or a deficiency with the ABX Maintenance Program," according to documents. But the company recommended improvements to the maintenance program to include more specific checks of the bolts and mountings on the landing gear doors.

The two pilots on the jet last fall over Kent didn't know the door had fallen off. Crews performing a post-flight maintenance walk around at Boeing Field discovered the right main gear strut door was missing.

Rinabarger called the Kent Police and the FAA when the part fell outside of her house. FAA inspectors picked up the part and took it the FAA's Flight Standards Division office in Seattle.

"We heard a big crash," she said. "My husband and I walked out and I saw a big metal thing. I thought it was a road work sign. But my husband walked over and saw it was a door to an airplane. It was crazy."

An FAA inspector told Rinabarger that planes lose little pieces all of the time. That wasn't much comfort to Rinabarger. The FAA also told her she could call after the investigation was complete to find out more details. Rinabarger said she never made that call but wondered what had happened.

For sometime after the plane part fell, Rinabarger and her neighbors looked at the approaching planes differently.

"We always notice the landing gear doors because they are at the same altitude when they are coming in," she said. "It was after they lowered the door that it fell off."

The crashing plane part onto Rinabarger's street certainly sticks in her mind.

"It was an interesting day for sure," she said.

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