China Eastern Airlines crash: One of the plane’s flight recorders is found

HONG KONG — Rescuers have recovered one of the flight recorders from the Boeing 737 that crashed in a mountainous rural area in southern China, the country’s aviation security agency said on Wednesday.

The discovery of what officials believe is the cockpit voice recorder could provide important evidence for investigators investigating why the plane carrying 132 people, operated by China Eastern Airlines, crashed to the ground on Monday. Everyone on board is feared to have died in China’s worst air disaster since 1994.

Heavy rain hampered the efforts of rescuers, who armed with shovels and flashlights combed the crash site and found fragments of human remains, a fire official said. Footage from China’s official Xinhua news agency showed officials on a muddy, forested hillside, putting the black box – actually an orange, cylindrical device – into a plastic bag with gloved hands.

The black box’s exterior was badly damaged, but its storage unit remained “relatively intact,” Zhu Tao, a spokesman for China’s Civil Aviation Administration, said late Wednesday. An early assessment revealed it was a cockpit voice recorder, and the device was sent to a facility in Beijing for analysis, Mr Zhu said.

An airplane’s two black boxes — a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder — store critical information and typically provide accident investigations with the best information as to what caused an airplane to crash. The devices are hardened to withstand significant shocks, and their data can often be useful to investigators even if the boxes are damaged.

Rescue workers have found no survivors at the site where a Boeing 737 crashed in southern China. Footage released by state media appears to show the incident and its aftermath, as searches were underway for more than 130 people. Photo: China Daily/Reuters

It takes time to download and decrypt the recorded data, but the process may take longer if the internal units are compromised, Mr. Zhu said. The hunt for the second black box continues, he said. Both devices are manufactured by Honeywell International inc,

an aerospace and industrial conglomerate based in Charlotte, NC, according to Chinese officials.

At a previous briefing, Mao Yanfeng, a CAAC official, said the weather was not hazardous at the time of the crash and that air traffic controllers and crew members maintained normal communications until the jet’s altitude suddenly dropped.

Aviation security officials said the plane was at a cruising altitude of 8,900 meters, or about 29,000 feet, at 2:17 p.m. local time and an air traffic controller noticed a sharp drop at 2:20 p.m. and the plane’s radar signal disappeared.

Tracking data from Flightradar24 shows the jet plummeted from the sky, reaching vertical speeds of 31,000 feet per minute, or more than 350 miles per hour. It first fell to an altitude of 7,425 feet, when it briefly managed to gain about 1,200 feet in altitude before diving back towards the mountain — a trajectory some aviation security experts said was very unusual.

The plane was operated by a captain and two co-pilots who were qualified and performed well, Sun Shiying, chairman of the subsidiary of China Eastern based in southwest China’s Yunnan Province, said on Wednesday. The chief pilot was hired as a Boeing 737 captain in January 2018, with a combined flying experience of 6,709 hours, Mr Sun said, while the co-pilots had 31,769 and 556 hours respectively. They were not named.

The plane’s wreckage was scattered over a hilly, wooded area. An army of rescuers – including soldiers and firefighters – and excavators dug into the land where the impact of the crash blasted trees and a terraced field, video broadcast by state broadcaster China Central Television showed.

Government officials controlled access to the crash site on Wednesday.


Photo:

Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

The rain soaked the crash site, forcing rescuers to halt their efforts, CCTV reported, adding that the smell of fuel still lingered at the accident site. The broadcaster said rescue workers had warned the rain could cause small landslides.

The aircraft was carrying nine crew members and 123 passengers. With no survivors found, it could become China’s worst plane crash in nearly three decades.

Ou Ling, an official with the Wuzhou Fire Department, a city in the Guangxi region near the crash site, told CCTV Tuesday that human remains were found. Details of the bodies’ recovery remained scarce in the Chinese media.

Mr Ou said the narrow paths to the crash site prevented larger rescue equipment from entering, adding that the lack of lighting facilities in the mountains – particularly at night – made their mission more difficult, according to state media.

The plane, a Boeing 737-800, is capable of flying and reported no technical problems before takeoff, and its crew are in good health and meeting flight requirements, Chinese officials said Tuesday.

Boeing has said it is working with the airline and its experts are ready to help with the investigation.

The China Eastern Airlines crash

write to Elaine Yu at elaine.yu@wsj.com

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/human-remains-found-at-china-eastern-airlines-plane-crash-site-11648024124 China Eastern Airlines crash: One of the plane’s flight recorders is found

Ethan Gach

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