In this photo released by Chinese news agency Xinhua, debris is seen at the site of a plane crash in Tengxian County, south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on Tuesday March 22, 2022. An East China Boeing 737-800 with more than 100 people on board crashed in a remote mountainous region in southern China on Monday, officials said, sparking a visible wildfire from space in the country’s worst air disaster in nearly a decade.
Zhou Hua/Xinhua via AP
BEIJING (AP) — A Boeing 737-800 crash in southwest China sparked a fire large enough to be seen from space and forced rescuers to search a rugged, isolated mountainside (see photos in the gallery).
A day after the China Eastern Airlines flight plunged from the sky, there are more questions than answers.
What caused the crash?
The cause is unknown. Flight 5735 was at 29,000 feet (8,800 meters) on Monday afternoon when it dived about an hour into its flight, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.com.
The aircraft dived to 7,400 feet (2,200 meters) before regaining approximately 1,200 feet (360 meters), then dived again. It crashed into the side of a mountain in a remote wooded area outside the city of Wuzhou.
State media and Chinese regulators gave no indication that the pilot reported any problems or other information that could shed light on the cause of the disaster. The plane stopped transmitting data 96 seconds after it began to fall.
Rescuers planned to use drones to search the plane’s black boxes, which are expected to contain information from cockpit instruments and sound.
Confirming the cause of a plane crash sometimes takes months or years due to the need to gather severely damaged debris and examine specialized technical factors.
How many people were on board? Did any survive?
The plane was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew from the city of Kunming in southwest China to Guangzhou, an export hub in the southeast.
No survivors have been found as rescuers search the rugged and charred mountainside of the semi-tropical region of Guangxi.
No stranger would have been on board. Two Chinese companies said their employees were on the robbery, including the chief financial officer of Guangzhou-based Dinglong Culture Co., whose interests range from mining to TV and film production.
Family members gathered in closed waiting areas at Guangzhou and Kunming airports. According to Chinese reports, five 700-room hotels have been requisitioned closer to the crash site for family members.
Is it the same Boeing model in previous accidents?
No. The plane that crashed on Monday was a Boeing 737-800, not the Boeing 737 Max, a newer model that was temporarily grounded worldwide following two fatal accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
The 737-800 is a twin-engine single-aisle aircraft commonly used for short- and medium-haul flights. In a typical configuration, it has 178 seats divided between main and premium cabins. Boeing has delivered more than 5,100 over the past 24 years, and China is the biggest market, with nearly 1,200, according to aviation consultant IBA.
What is the history of this model?
The plane has been flying since 1998 and has an excellent safety record, said Hassan Shahidi, president of the Flight Safety Foundation. They were involved in 22 accidents which damaged the planes beyond repair and killed 612 people. The Boeing NG or Next Generation 737, including the 737-800, have performed more than 116 million flights.
In 2019, the United States Federal Aviation Administration ordered inspections of 38 Boeing 737 NG planes, including 737-800s, due to cracks found in a part that connects the wings to the fuselage. The FAA did not ground the planes.
After this week’s crash, China Eastern grounded all of its 737-800s, China’s transport ministry said.
The Boeing 737 Max jets, which first flew in 2017, were grounded after crashes in 2018 and 2019. In each case, flight control software pushed the nose down shortly after takeoff and the pilots were unable to regain control. This software is not on the 737-800.
Airlines have been allowed to resume use of the 737 Max after Boeing redesigned the system in a process overseen by regulators in the United States, Europe, China and the Middle East.
What is the risk for Boeing?
Boeing would clearly suffer if Monday’s crash was blamed on a plane malfunction, but experts downplay the likelihood of a design flaw because the 737-800s have been carrying passengers for nearly a quarter of a century with relatively little security issues.
Still, the accident could further damage the reputation of Boeing in China, which only recently certified the revamped 737 Max. Before the crashes of 2018 and 2019, China was the biggest market for the Max and a crucial source of cash for the company.
What will the survey look like?
China will lead the investigation, which will include a representative from the US accident investigator, called the National Transportation Safety Board, as well as representatives from Boeing and CFM, the General Electric-Safran joint venture that made the engines for this plane. .
The key to the investigation is to recover the so-called black boxes – they are usually painted orange for visibility, but the long-held name has stuck. A device, called a flight data recorder, captures information about airspeed, altitude, direction up or down, pilot actions and the performance of all key aircraft systems. The cockpit voice recorder captures sounds including conversations and background engine noise during flight.
Investigators will review the aircraft’s maintenance history, pilot training and record, pilot communication with air traffic control and weather data. They will examine pieces of the wreckage for clues. Even the size of the debris field matters – when the wreckage is spread over a very large area, it could indicate that the plane was falling apart before it touched down.
Does the destruction of the plane make it more difficult to find the cause?
As long as the black boxes have survived and can be downloaded, investigators should be able to get a good idea of what happened. UPDATE: A black box has been found.