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Boeing orders airlines to check 787 cockpit seats after Latam incident

Boeing has asked airlines to check the cockpit seats of its 787 Dreamliner plane, the company said Friday, after a Latam Airlines plane suddenly plunged on a flight to Auckland, New ZealandMonday, injuring passengers.

The drop in altitude appears to have been caused when a flight attendant flipped a switch on a seat, which sent a pilot flying the plane, the Wall Street Journal reported this week, citing unnamed U.S. officials Of the industry. Aviation regulators are investigating the incident and have not released any findings.

In a statement, Boeing said it reminded airlines of a 2017 safety memo that told them how to inspect and maintain cockpit seat switches.

“The investigation into Flight LA800 is ongoing and we defer to investigating authorities any potential findings,” the company said. “We recommend operators perform an inspection at the next maintenance opportunity,” he adds.

The Latam plane's heartbreaking fall was documented in video footage captured by passengers. The plane fell sharply, then quickly recovered, said one passenger, Brian Jokat, likening it to “going off the top of a roller coaster and going down.”

The drop left at least one passenger in critical condition; Another 11 people were also taken to Auckland hospitals after the plane landed. In total, dozens of passengers were injured, most of them lightly.

Regulators, airlines and travelers have focused intensely on the quality and safety of Boeing planes since a Jan. 5 incident in which a panel tore off an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 plane, forcing pilots to perform an emergency landing. In 2018 and 2019, two 737 Max 8 planes crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing nearly 350 people.

In a memo to its 787 flight crews, American Airlines said it had “identified a potential hazard” with the horizontal power control switches located at the top of the pilots' seatbacks.

The memo, which was reviewed by The New York Times, said the airline's technology operations team “will ensure that these switches are properly secured” and asked 787 captains to “inform all Pilots, flight attendants and jump seat passengers on your flight of the importance of not using the switch located at the top of the pilot seat back when the seat is occupied.

In a picture of a seat back included in the note, it appears that the switch has a cover.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement Friday that it would convene a group of experts to review Boeing's messages to airlines about the change, including the 2017 memo, and provide feedback to the company. “The agency will continue to monitor the situation closely,” he added.

The 787 Dreamliner, a twin-aisle aircraft, is one of Boeing's most important aircraft. Its three models can carry 248 to 336 passengers, according to Boeing, and are used by airlines on international and transcontinental flights.

Latam's plane was flying from Sydney, Australia, to Auckland and was scheduled to go to Santiago in Chile, where the airline is based. The company said in a statement Friday that it was working with investigators.

Marc Walker reports contributed.

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