Door plugs are used to cover gaps in the fuselage where emergency exits would go if the plane had a greater passenger capacity.
The panels are held in place with specific fasteners and sealed, in part, with the help of the cabin’s normal pressurization, which allows planes to be habitable and circulate necessary oxygen so high in the sky.
What caused the door plug to blow out over the Portland area hasn’t been determined.
In an interview with NBC News on Monday, Homendy called the door plug “a really, really key piece of evidence.”
The NTSB had asked for anyone who discovered the door plug to report its location and send photos to the agency. As the NTSB predicted, the panel landed in the community of Cedar Hills, about 7 miles west of central Portland.
Two cellphones believed to belong to passengers were also found nearby, Homendy said.
“I want to start by thanking, Bob,” Homendy said at a news conference Monday night, also expressing her gratitude to the community.
“Bob was apparently a star with all his students today,” she said.
Sauer told NBC News he used the episode to demonstrate some elements of physics to students. But he said more time was initially spent at school Monday discussing his notoriety.
“By the time I got to school,” he said, “pretty much the whole school knew about it.”
Homendy said the agency offered to send personnel to Sauer’s class for a presentation on how the NTSB conducts such investigations to help make travel safer.
But Sauer said he turned down the offer: “If it wasn’t finals week I would have tried to take them up on that.”