Leak sends Alaska jet back to Sea-Tac

SEATTLE – An Alaska Airlines jet en route to Chicago returned to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport about a half-hour after takeoff Friday because of a suspected fluid leak, a spokeswoman said.

Concerns about Flight 22, a Boeing 737-700, were raised by personnel on another aircraft who reported seeing a possible leak, airline spokeswoman Amanda Tobin said.

The plane was inspected on its return, and “there was no indication of a fuel leak,” Tobin said. Returning to Sea-Tac “was the right thing to do as a precautionary measure,” she said. “In the end, it was merely precautionary.”

What might have been seen was a small amount of fuel coming out of the vent drain at the end of the plane’s wing, which is designed to expel small amounts of excess fuel, she said. “It’s designed to work exactly as it did,” Tobin said.

The flight had been scheduled to leave at 12:30 p.m. Takeoff was delayed just over an hour by a “minor maintenance issue” involving displacement of a small piece of a rubber door seal on the nose landing gear door, Tobin said. There also were air traffic control delays caused by weather in Chicago, she said.

The flight departed at 1:44 p.m. and returned to Seattle about 2:15 p.m. The 124 passengers and five crew members were loaded onto another jet, which departed for Chicago at 3:11 p.m., Tobin said.

“They used to be the best. They’re becoming the worst,” disgruntled passenger Terry Firestone told KIRO-TV of the Seattle-based airline.

On Tuesday evening, an Alaska jet bound for Denver turned around about 15 minutes after departure when a warning alarm sounded in the cockpit, indicating a malfunction in the plane’s automatic cabin pressurization system.

When that plane returned, it was greeted by the Port of Seattle Fire Department. Medics treated five people for ear and sinus pain before they were taken to area hospitals. The remaining passengers took another plane, and the original plane was taken out of service.

In late December, an Alaska Airlines jet lost cabin pressure at 26,000 feet because of a foot-long gash in its fuselage. The jet, bound for Burbank, Calif., returned to Sea-Tac and landed without incident.

None of the 140 passengers aboard the 91/2-year-old MD-80 was injured, though passengers described 25 anxious minutes between when oxygen masks dropped down and when the plane landed.

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