This is what the FBI told the passengers of the Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max lost a door plug panel mid-flight that they may be the victims of a crime.

“I am contacting you because we have identified you as a possible victim of a crime,” a victim specialist from the federal agency’s Seattle office wrote in the letters passengers received this week. “This matter is currently under investigation by the FBI.”

The plane was flying 15,000 feet over Oregon on January 5 when the panel blew out, leaving a gaping hole in the side. The rapid loss of cabin pressure caused oxygen masks to fall from the ceiling and be suctioned off air flowed out of the hole exerted force on people on the plane.

Pilots were able to land safely in Portland, Oregon, and none of the 171 passengers and six crew were seriously injured. Investigators say it appears four bolts used to secure the panel were missing after the plane was worked on at a Boeing factory in Renton, Washington.

Published reports and government officials have said the U.S. Department of Justice has done so opened a criminal investigation on whether the panel’s outburst violated the terms of a 2021 settlement that allowed Boeing to avoid prosecution for allegedly misleading regulators who certified the 737 Max.

The settlement followed two crashes of Boeing Max jets in 2018 and 2019, a total of 346 people died.

Mark Lindquist, an attorney representing some passengers on the Alaska Airlines flight in a lawsuit against Boeing, shared the FBI letter with The Associated Press. The notice gave recipients an email address, a phone number, a case number and a personal identification number so they could share questions and concerns.

“A criminal investigation can be a lengthy undertaking and for various 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 FBI letter did not name Boeing, but it declined to comment Friday. Alaska Airlines said: “We are fully cooperating and do not believe we are a target of the investigation.”

The National Transportation Safety Boardthe Federal Aviation Administration and the Justice Department are conducting separate investigations into Boeing.

Lindquist said he and his clients welcome the Justice Department’s investigation.

“We want accountability, answers and safer aircraft,” he said. “The DOJ and FBI bring significant influence and resources that I am confident will help our cause and help the flying public as well.”

The decision to designate Alaska passengers as potential crime victims marks a reversal for the Justice Department, which argued a few years ago that families of passengers killed in the Max crashes did not meet the legal definition of crime victims crimes.

a federal judge in Texasruled, however, that the families did meet the standard. He said the Justice Department should have been required by federal law to tell them about secret negotiations with Boeing that led to the 2021 settlement.

Robert Clifford, a Chicago attorney who represents some of these families, said his clients are grateful that the Justice Department is taking a different policy toward the Alaska passengers.

“They are grateful this is happening,” Clifford said. “To be clear, they are not thanking DOJ for doing the right thing. They were forced to do the right thing.”

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