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Boeing tells airlines to check pilot seats after report that an accidental shift led plane to plunge

Boeing is telling airlines to inspect switches on pilots' seats in its 787 Dreamliner jets after a published report said an accidental cockpit seat movement likely caused the sudden plunge of a LATAM Airlines plane flying to New Zealand.

Boeing said Friday it recommended that airlines inspect the motorized cockpit seats the next time they perform maintenance on their 787s. The aircraft manufacturer pointed to instructions that include how to disable motors that move the seats.

The company described its advisory as a “precautionary measure." It did not link the memo to what happened this week on a LATAM Airlines flight between Australia and New Zealand.

The Federal Aviation Administration said, however, that the Boeing memo was issued “in response to the incident on LATAM Flight 800." The FAA said it was convening a panel of experts to review Boeing’s message to airlines.

LATAM Airlines, based in Chile, initially said there was “a technical event during the flight which caused a strong movement.” In an update Tuesday, the airline said the plane “experienced a strong shake during flight, the cause of which is currently under investigation.”

Passengers reported that when the Dreamliner dropped without warning, people not wearing seatbelts were tossed from their seats and into the cabin ceiling and aisles. The plane later landed at Auckland Airport as scheduled.

About 50 people were injured, according to emergency crews in Auckland.

The 787 is a two-aisle plane that debuted in 2011 and is used mostly for long international flights. The version involved in the LATAM flight can carry up to about 300 passengers.

United Airlines, with 71 Dreamliners, and American Airlines with 59, are among the leading users of the plane. American said Boeing's instructions would have no impact on its operations. United declined to comment.

The Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday that a flight attendant serving a meal in the cockpit hit a switch on the back of a seat that pushed the pilot into controls on the 787, pushing down the nose of the plane. The newspaper cited anonymous U.S. industry officials who were briefed on preliminary findings from the investigation.

The newspaper said Boeing recommended that airlines check to make sure the switches are securely covered – they are not supposed to be used during flights – and told them how to turn off power to the seat motor.

Chile’s aviation regulator has sent investigators to New Zealand and, under international accords, will lead the investigation. It has not released any findings.

The incident could ratchet up scrutiny of Boeing, which is already at a high level since a panel blew out of an Alaska Airlines 737 Max over Oregon in January. The FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Justice Department are conducting separate investigations related to the blowout and Boeing's manufacturing of Max jets.