China Eastern jet's flight data reportedly points to intentional nosedive

Reports say one of the black boxes indicated someone in the cockpit deliberately crashed the plane

Rescue workers at the site where a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 crashed in March. Reuters
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Investigators are examining whether the China Eastern Airlines jet crash in March was intentionally caused because there was no evidence of a technical malfunction that could have caused mainland China's worst aviation disaster in 28 years.

Flight data from one of the Boeing 737-800's black boxes indicated that someone in the cockpit deliberately crashed the plane, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

The aircraft, en route to Guangzhou from Kunming, crashed on March 21 in the mountains of the Guangxi region, after a sudden plunge from cruising altitude, killing all 123 passengers and nine crew members aboard.

Boeing and the US National Transportation Safety Board referred questions to Chinese regulators, without commenting, Reuters reported.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China, which is leading the investigation, has yet to respond.

The pilots did not respond to repeated calls from air-traffic controllers and nearby planes during the rapid descent, authorities said.

Speculation on the internet about a deliberate crash had “gravely misled the public” and “interfered with the accident investigation work”, the CAAC said on April 11.

A woman who asked to be identified only by her surname, Wen, whose husband died in the crash, said she and other victims' family members had signed an agreement with China Eastern that included a point about compensation.

She declined to say how much had been offered.

China Eastern said in a statement that no evidence had emerged that could determine whether there were any problems with the aircraft, the WSJ said.

The 737-800 is a widely flown predecessor to Boeing's 737 Max but does not have the systems that were linked to fatal 737-Max crashes in 2018 and 2019, which led to a lengthy grounding of the Max.

In a summary of an unpublished preliminary crash report last month, Chinese investigators did not point to any technical recommendations for the 737-800, which has been in service since 1997 with a strong safety record, according to experts.

The NTSB assisted Chinese investigators with the review of black boxes at its US lab in Washington at China's request.

CAAC said the NTSB confirmed it did not release information about the China Eastern crash to the media.

A final report into the causes could take two years or more to compile, Chinese officials said.

Analysts say most crashes are caused by a combination of human and technical factors.

Deliberate crashes are exceptionally rare.

Experts noted that the latest hypothesis left open whether the action stemmed from one pilot acting alone or the result of a struggle or cockpit intrusion. Sources stressed that nothing has been confirmed.

The cockpit voice recorder was damaged during the crash and it is unclear whether investigators have been able to retrieve any information from it.

Updated: May 18, 2022, 7:20 AM