Investigators have so far not found any mechanical or technical faults with the jet, the reports say, citing a preliminary assessment by U.S. officials into the plane’s cockpit voice and flight route recorders.
The China Eastern Boeing 737-800 crashed into a mountainous area near southern China on March 21, killing all 132 passengers and crew onboard. The crash marked China’s worst air disaster in over a decade.
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The ill-fated aircraft was traveling from Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan to Guangzhou along the coast when it lost all contact with air traffic control, China’s Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC) said in a statement following the crash.
“The plane did what it was told to do by someone in the cockpit,” a report by the Wall Street Journal said, citing a source with knowledge of U.S. officials’ preliminary assessments of the jet.
Data from one of the plane’s “black box” flight recorders, which was recovered from the crash site, suggested that inputs to the controls pushed the plane into a near-vertical dive, the report said.
Early data showed the airliner plunged from 29,000 feet to 8,000 feet before leveling off and then free falling into the ground.
Investigators: ‘Near-vertical descent would’ve required intentional force’
Investigators had warned that it could be weeks or even months before the reason for what caused the jet to plunge vertically from the sky at more than 350 miles per hour could be identified.
But the officials who spoke to reporters today (May 18) point to the plane’s flaps not being engaged and landing gear was also not put down. The near-vertical descent of the plane, they believe, would’ve required intentional force.
The plane slammed into the ground with such force that it created a 66-foot deep hole in the ground, Chinese officials said.
According to China Eastern Airlines, all three pilots on board were qualified and in good health, but investigators have said that one of the pilots’ personal lives and background suggests that he may have been struggling through certain issues right before the crash, ABC News reported.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said all information on the investigation will come from their counterparts in China’s CAAC, but both regulators and plane manufacturer Boeing have not found any operational problems with the downed jet. Sources said Chinese investigators also haven’t flagged any mechanical issues.
“The NTSB has assisted the Civil Aviation Administration of China with their investigation of the China Eastern 737 crash,” the agency said in a statement. “The NTSB doesn’t comment on investigations led by other authorities. All information related to that investigation will be released by the CAAC.”
Chinese airlines have generally had a good safety record, with the last major accident occurring 12 years ago when 42 people died onboard a Henan Airlines Embraer E-190 flight departing from Harbin to Yichun city in Heilongjiang Province.