The FBI has told passengers on the Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max that lost a door-plug pane l in midflight that they might be victims of a crime.

“This case is currently under investigation by the FBI,” an FBI victim specialist said in the letters, which passengers received this week. “A criminal investigation can be a lengthy undertaking, and, for several reasons, we cannot tell you about its progress at this time.”

Published reports and government officials have said the U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into whether the panel blowout violated terms of a 2021 settlement that let Boeing avoid prosecution for allegedly misleading regulators who certified the 737 Max.

That settlement followed two deadly crashes of Boeing Max jets in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

The FBI letter did not name Boeing, which declined to comment Friday. Alaska Airlines did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mark Lindquist, a lawyer representing some of the passengers on the Alaska Airlines flight in a lawsuit against Boeing, shared the letter with The Associated Press.

The plane was flying 16,000 feet over Oregon when a panel blew out, leaving a gaping hole in the side. Pilots were able to land safely in Portland, Oregon. Investigators say it appears that four bolts used to help secure the panel were missing after the plane was worked on at a Boeing factory in Renton, Washington.

The National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Justice Department are conducting separate investigations of Boeing.


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