China plane crash investigation focuses on flight crew: report

Investigators investigating the crash of a China Eastern Airlines plane are examining the actions of the crew on the flight deck, with no evidence of a technical malfunction, two people briefed on the matter said.

In mainland China’s deadliest air disaster in 28 years, the Boeing 737-800 crashed into the mountains of southern Guangxi on March 21 after a sudden drop in cruising altitude, killing all 123 passengers and nine crew members.

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

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal said flight data from one of the black boxes indicated someone in the cockpit had intentionally crashed the plane, citing people familiar with US officials’ preliminary assessment.

A source told Reuters that investigators are investigating whether the crash was a “voluntary” act involving crew input to the controls, although that does not necessarily mean the dive was intentional.

The cockpit voice recorder was damaged in the crash and it is unclear whether investigators were able to extract any information from it.

Mao Yanfeng, director of the accident investigation division of the Civil Aviation Authority of China, speaks at a press conference in Wuzhou city on March 23. A team of American aviation experts traveled to China to help with the investigation. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Boeing Co, the jet’s maker, and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) declined to comment and referred questions to Chinese regulators. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), which is leading the investigation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an April 11 response to internet rumors of a deliberate accident, the CAAC said the speculation had “seriously misled the public” and “interfered with the work of investigating the accident.”

On Wednesday, a woman who had lost her husband in the accident and asked to be identified only by his last name, Wen, said she had not seen the Wall Street Journal report but hoped the results of the survey would soon be published.

Wen added that she and other family members of the victims had signed an agreement with China Eastern that included a compensation clause, but declined to say how much was being offered.

China Eastern did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Wall Street Journal said the airline said in a statement that no evidence had emerged that could determine if there were any issues with the plane.

No urgent safety recommendation

The 737-800 is a widely used predecessor to Boeing’s 737 Max, but lacks the systems linked to the fatal 737-Max crashes in 2018 and 2019 that led to the Max’s long grounding. These accidents killed 346 people, including 18 Canadians in a March 2019 accident in Ethiopia.

China Eastern grounded its entire fleet of 737 to 800 planes after the crash, but resumed flights in mid-April, a move widely seen at the time as ruling out any new immediate safety concerns over the busiest model. from Boeing.

In a summary of an unpublished preliminary accident report last month, Chinese investigators pointed to no technical recommendation for the 737-800, which has been in service since 1997 with a strong safety record, experts said.

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In a May 10 interview with Reuters, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said board and Boeing investigators had traveled to China to help the Chinese investigation, which found no issues. security requiring urgent action.

Homendy said if the council had any safety concerns it would “issue urgent safety recommendations”.

The NTSB helped Chinese investigators examine black boxes from its US lab in Washington at China’s request, despite political tensions between the countries.

The CAAC said the NTSB confirmed that it did not release information about the China Eastern crash to the media, the state-owned Global Times said.

Final report could take years

A final report on the causes of the crash could take two years or more to compile, Chinese officials said. Analysts attribute most accidents to a combination of human and technical factors.

Deliberate accidents are exceptionally rare in the world.

In March 2015, a Germanwings co-pilot deliberately flew an Airbus A320 into a French mountain, killing all 150 people on board.

French investigators discovered that the 27-year-old suffered from a “psychotic depressive episode”, hidden from his employer. They then called for better mental health guidelines and stronger peer support groups for pilots.