Secretary of State Antony Blinken was briefly left stranded in Switzerland on Wednesday after the Boeing plane intended to fly him back to the United States suffered a critical failure caused by an oxygen leak, according to multiple reports.
Blinken had only just boarded the modified Boeing 737 jet in Zurich when the issue became apparent, CNN reported. The aircraft — a military version of the Boeing 737 Next Generation — was ultimately deemed unsafe, and passengers were forced to deplane.
Another smaller plane was chartered for the secretary.
Others traveling with Blinken, including members of the press, were told the second aircraft would not be able to accommodate everyone, and they were encouraged to make commercial flight arrangements to the United States.
The snafu came as Blinken was gearing up to travel back to Washington after attending the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. It also marked the latest blow to Boeing, which has been plagued with negative press since Jan. 5, when an Alaska Airlines plane, a Boeing 737 Max 9, caused a serious midair crisis.
The aircraft, destined for Ontario, California, had just taken off from Portland International Airport when its door plug— a portion of the plane’s fuselage the manufacturer can place instead of an emergency exit door — flew off. It left a huge hole on the side of the plane, hovering some 16,000 feet in the air at the time, and the pilot was forced to carry out an emergency landing.
The Federal Aviation Administration grounded Boeing 737 Max 9 planes in response to the incident, requiring they undergo safety inspections before returning to the air.
The plane Blinken was initially set to fly on is not the same model involved in the Alaska Airlines incident, which is a newer make.
The Boeing 737 Max series has also suffered issues in the past, including in 2018, when a Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed into the Java Sea. The Lion Air plane went down just 13 minutes after takeoff from Indonesia’s Soekarno–Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, killing all 189 passengers and crew. Less than a year later, a different Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, this one operated by Ethiopia Airlines, crashed shortly after takeoff from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The incidents led to a 20-month grounding of the jet while Boeing worked to come up with a fix for the flaw that caused the crashes.