The Portland science teacher who found the door plug that flew off an Alaska Airlines plane has spoken out about his crucial discovery – and even explained the physics behind the object’s 16,000-foot plunge.
Bob Sauer, 64, who teaches at the private Catlin Gabel School, was previously identified only by his first name after he located the door plug from the ill-fated Boeing 737 MAX 9 two days after the Friday blowout.
The physics teacher decided to grab a flashlight and search his yard Sunday night after his ex-wife called to let him know that authorities believed the door might have landed in the area, The Oregonian reported.
“It still didn’t seem very likely to me,” Sauer told NBC News on Monday evening.
He pointed his light on some trees he and his kids had planted about 20 years ago in the West Haven-Sylvan neighborhood and noticed a white object that he quickly realized was the “missing piece from the plane.”
”It was definitely an airplane part. It had the same curvature that the fuselage has, and had a window in it,” Sauer told The Oregonian about the 65-pound object, which did not appear to have hit the ground hard.
As a physics teacher, he wondered if a tree had softened the landing of the heavy door, which miraculously missed hitting anyone or causing any property damage.
Sauer quickly alerted the National Transportation Safety Board of his fortuitous finding as the agency was conducting a media briefing, where chair Jennifer Homendy shared the good news.
“We are really pleased that Bob found this,” she said, using only his first name. “We’re gonna go pick that up and make sure that we begin analyzing it.”
On Monday morning, NTSB officials who arrived to inspect the door were ecstatic to find it in one piece and took it to Sauer’s front yard, where they snapped photos of it.
The crew told him the door had not fallen from the plane directly overhead.
He explained that air resistance, wind speed and the plane’s velocity all played a role in where it landed.
When Sauer arrived at school later in the morning for his astronomy class, several students and teachers had already been waiting in anticipation to ask, “Are you the Bob?”
He spent the first part of the class discussing the physics involved in the plunge, including reaching terminal velocity, the maximum speed attainable by an object as it falls, according to the outlet.
“When something is falling through air, it will reach a final velocity,” he told The Oregonian. “The door came down through the tree so it didn’t make any indentation or anything in the ground.”
Sauer, who has taught physics, astronomy, geology and chemistry at Catlin Gabel for 23 years, showed off the NTSB “Special Operations” patch and a board member medallion that he received for his efforts.
Homendy said the NTSB has offered to send officials to Sauer’s class for a presentation on how the agency conducts such investigations to improve safety.
“If it wasn’t finals week, I would have tried to take them up on that,” he told NBC News after lamenting that he was falling behind grading his students.
But he told The Oregonian that he was definitely “curious to what actually happened that caused this,” referring to the incident that left a gaping hole in the aircraft’s fuselage and threatened the safety of all 177 people aboard.
In the meantime, he has been signing his notes and emails: “The Bob, finder of missing aircraft parts.”