WASHINGTON, May 17 (Reuters) – Investigators investigating the crash of a China Eastern Airlines plane (600115.SS) are examining the actions of the crew on the flight deck, with no evidence of a technical malfunction, have informed two persons on said matter.
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. Read more
The pilots did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers and nearby planes during the rapid descent, authorities said.
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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.
Boeing Co (BA.N), 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.
Screenshots of the Wall Street Journal story appear to have been censored on both Chinese social media platform Weibo and messaging app Wechat on Wednesday.
The hashtag topics “China Eastern” and “China Eastern black boxes” are banned on Weibo, which cited a violation of laws, and users cannot share messages about the incident in Wechat groups.
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, asked to be identified only by her last name, Wen, said she had not seen the Wall Street Journal report but hoped the results of the survey would be published soon.
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 TECHNICAL RECOMMENDATIONS
The 737-800 is a widely used predecessor to Boeing’s 737 MAX, but it lacks the systems linked to the fatal 737-MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 that led to the MAX’s long grounding.
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.
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.
Boeing shares closed up 6.5%.
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 cocktail of human and technical factors.
Deliberate collisions are exceptionally rare worldwide.
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.
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Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Tim Hepher in Paris and Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Stella Qiu and Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing and Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Clarence Fernandez
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