SEATAC, Wash. — An Alaska Airlines flight bound for San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was forced to return after part of the metal paneling that covers the engine became dislodged and eventually detached from the aircraft, the airline confirmed Monday.
Alaska Airlines Flight 558 reported an "unusual vibration" on the left side of the aircraft shortly after takeoff from Sea-Tac. The plane returned to the airport and landed safely, according to Alaska Airlines.
The metal paneling that covers the engine, called cowling, detached from the aircraft after the plane touched back down at Sea-Tac.
The aircraft, a Boeing 737-900ER, has been taken out of service while the airline's safety team investigates.
There were 176 guests and six crew members on the flight at the time.
"The two pilots who operated the flight have more than 32 years of combined flying experience," a statement from Alaska Airlines reads. "They, along with our flight attendants, handled the incident with tremendous professionalism and care. We also greatly appreciated the patience of our guests during this event."
Deanna Quiring took the window seat on the plane so she could get some sleep. She and other passengers barely had time to close their eyes before the incident.
She had a perfect view of the engine as the panel came off.
Despite what was happening, Quiring said it was calm inside the plane.
"I think the people in the back of the plane didn't even realize what was going on," she said.
Scott Hamilton, an aviation consultant with Leeham Company, said what happened on Monday isn't specific to any kind of plane. He said the investigation will likely include determining whether there was a mechanical failure or a mechanic failed to properly latch it down.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
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