WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Investigators investigating the crash of a China Eastern Airlines plane are examining whether it was due to intentional action taken on the flight deck, with no evidence to date of a technical malfunction, said said two people informed about it.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Tuesday that flight data from one of the Boeing 737-800’s black boxes indicated that someone in the cockpit intentionally crashed the plane, citing people familiar with the preliminary assessment. American officials.
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 Boeing 737-800, en route from Kunming to Guangzhou, crashed in the mountains of Guangxi on March 21 after a sudden drop in cruising altitude, killing all 123 passengers and nine crew on board.
It is the deadliest air disaster in mainland China in 28 years.
The pilots did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers and nearby planes during the rapid descent, authorities said. A source said Reuters investigators were investigating whether the accident was a “voluntary” act.
Screenshots of the Wall Street Journal story appeared to have been censored on both Chinese Twitter-like platform Weibo and messaging app Wechat on Wednesday morning. The hashtag topics “China Eastern” and “China Eastern black boxes” are banned on Weibo, citing a violation of relevant laws, and users cannot share the story in group chats on Wechat.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China said on April 11, in response to internet rumors of a deliberate accident, that the speculation had “seriously misled the public” and “interfered with the investigation work on the accident”.
China Eastern did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. The Wall Street Journal said the airline said in a statement that no evidence had emerged that could determine whether or not there were issues with the crashed plane. The Chinese Embassy declined to comment.
The 737-800 is a widely used predecessor to Boeing’s 737 MAX, but lacks the systems that have been linked to 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 in a move widely seen at the time as ruling out any new immediate safety concerns over the previous model and still Boeing’s most used.
In a summary of an unpublished preliminary crash report last month, Chinese regulators pointed to no technical recommendations for the 737-800, which has been in service since 1997 with a strong safety record, experts said.
NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said in a May 10 interview with Reuters that investigators from the board and Boeing had traveled to China to help with the Chinese investigation. She noted that the investigation to date had not found any safety issues that would require urgent action.
Homendy said if the council had any safety concerns it would “issue urgent safety recommendations”.
The NTSB helped Chinese investigators examine the black boxes at its US lab in Washington.
Boeing shares closed up 6.5%.
A final report on the causes could take two years or more to compile, Chinese officials said. According to analysts, most accidents are caused by a cocktail of human and technical factors.
Deliberate collisions are exceptionally rare. Experts noted the last hypothesis left open whether the action stemmed from a pilot acting alone or the result of a struggle or intrusion, but sources stressed that nothing has been confirmed.
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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