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The FBI told passengers on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 who lost a door plug during the flight in January that they may be the victims of a crime, according to reports.

“I am contacting you because we have identified you as a possible victim of a crime,” a victim specialist from the FBI Seattle Division wrote in the letter, which was sent to passengers aboard the plane, according to multiple media outlets.

The aircraft was a Boeing 737 Max and was carrying 171 passengers and six crew members. The plane was flying more than 16,000 feet over Oregon on January 5 when the door panel blew out, leaving a huge hole in the side.

The loss of cabin pressure caused oxygen masks to fall from the ceiling and the force of the air sucked from the plane exerted force on passengers and crew.

Pilots landed safely in Portland, Oregon, and no one on board was seriously injured.

Investigators say four bolts used to secure the panel appeared to be missing after the plane was being worked on at a Boeing factory in Renton, Washington.

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In 2018 and 2019, two crashes of Boeing Max jets killed a total of 346 people. It led to a settlement in 2021 that allowed Boeing to avoid prosecution for allegedly misleading regulators who certified the 737 Max.

Published reports and government officials say the U.S. Department of Justice has opened a criminal investigation to find out whether the panel’s outburst violated that settlement.

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Seven passengers on the flight recently filed a lawsuit. They accuse Alaska Airlines, Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems of negligence, liability for construction and manufacturing defects and failing to protect passengers from harm.

Passenger Cuong Tran, from Upland, California, sat in a row behind the gaping hole. He said the suction from the blowout took away his shoes and socks. It pulled him towards the opening and injured his foot.

Mark Lindquist, the attorney representing some of the passengers, shared the FBI letter with The Associated Press.

The letter provided passengers with an email address, a telephone number, a case number and a personal identification number so they could ask questions and share concerns.

“A criminal investigation can be a lengthy undertaking, and for a variety of reasons we cannot tell you about its progress at this time. A victim of a federal crime is entitled to certain services,” the letter said.

The letter made no mention of Boeing, but the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Justice Department are conducting separate investigations into the manufacturer.

The news comes after the FBI expanded its criminal investigation into the aircraft manufacturer.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Washington has empaneled a grand jury to find out whether Boeing violated federal criminal laws.

Contributors: Mike Snider; USA TODAY

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