Teacher becomes overnight celebrity after discovering Boeing door plug in backyard

A school teacher in the United States has become an overnight celebrity after finding the missing door plug that broke off an Alaska Airlines plane mid-flight.

Bob Sauer, a science teacher at Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon, discovered the door sitting among the trees in his backyard.

“I’ve been following the news about it all weekend on the radio. But it hadn’t dawned on me that it was actually in my neighbourhood where the debris had come down,” Mr Sauer told 7.30.

“I wasn’t out looking for it or anything like that.”

A plane door under a tree.

The door plug under a tree in Bob Sauer’s backyard.(Supplied: Bob Sauer)

The National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) had been desperately searching for the door, hoping it could assist their investigation into Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 after the plane’s door plug blew off shortly after take-off, leaving a gaping hole in the cabin.

There were 177 people on board.

Mr Sauer told 7.30 he’d heard a number of passengers’ personal effects “that came out through the hole” had been located in his neighbourhood.

A friend had urged him to check his own backyard.

A man in a high-viz vest and glasses examines a missing wall panel inside an empty passenger plane.

NTSB Investigator-in-Charge John Lovell examines the fuselage plug area of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282.(NTSB via Reuters)

“And I thought, ‘oh yeah, not very likely to be my yard, but maybe I’ll get around to that’,” he said.

When he did it was late Sunday in the US, and dark, so he got out his flashlight and searched the property.

“As I came around the corner of the house, I noticed that against the back of the property under a line of cedar trees I’d planted, there was something gleaming and white that should not have been there,” he said.

Men look at a plane door on a lawn.

Officials from the NTSB inspect the door plug.(Supplied: NTSB)

“As I started walking towards it, my heart started beating faster because it looked very much like an airplane part.”

Mr Sauer took a closer look and realised it was the missing piece the NTSB had been looking for.

“NTSB wanted a photo of it because someone else had claimed to have found it earlier in the day,” Mr Sauer said.

Early the next morning, the recovery team arrived at Mr Sauer’s property to collect the door and thanked him for his assistance.

The ‘Bob’ effect

A man hiking in mountains.

Bob Sauer hiking while on a recent holiday in the Pyrenees in France.(Supplied: Bob Sauer)

Mr Sauer’s discovery resulted in him becoming known as “the Bob” after the NTSB press briefing.

“I’m excited to announce that we found the door plug,” NTSB’s Jennifer Homendy said on Sunday night after Mr Sauer called them.

“The man’s name is Bob. Thank you, Bob.”

Mr Sauer has since found himself in the middle of a media circus.


“People immediately started tracking down who I was. And so I was getting emails and texts all night and all this morning,” he said.

“It makes me appreciate that I’m actually not a global celebrity in real life because I couldn’t sustain this lifestyle for very long.

“My students today were all very excited about it. And I didn’t really get any schoolwork done at school today, because so many people came in to talk to me about it, colleagues and students and media.”

After 40 years of teaching, Mr Sauer plans to retire at the end of this year and has several international trips coming up where he’ll be flying.

“I hope they get it fixed before then, or figured out before them,” he said.

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