A sudden human input to the plane’s controls appears to have caused a China Eastern flight to plunge nearly vertically into the mountains of Southern China in March, killing all 132 passengers onboard, according to preliminary findings from US authorities investigating the crash.
The findings come in part from information recovered from the Boeing 737 flight data recorder, known as a “black box”, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the US investigation.
“The plane did what it was told to do by someone in the cockpit,” one individual told the Journal.
Chinese officials leading the crash investigation have not flagged any apparent mechanical or flight problems with the plane. And air regulators and Boeing istelf are not working on any new safety directives or warnings related to the crash.
The China Eastern flight was aboard a Boeing model 737-800, a widely used plane with one of the best safety records in commercial aviation.
“That kind of vertical dive, without a radio call of any kind from the flightcrew, could clearly indicate a human activity to make that happen,” aviation safety consultant and former National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member John Goglia told FlightGlobal in April. “Nobody can come up with a mechanical failure mode that would make the airplane behave the way it did.”
Taken together, these findings suggest one of the pilots of the plane may have caused the nosedive, or someone broke into the cockpit and did so, though official pronouncements about the investigation have stressed that the investigation is still under way.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China has not yet determined the ultimate cause of the crash, and China Eastern has previously said the pilot flying the plane was in good physical, emotional, and financial health.
Chinese officials have also said that the China Eastern flight did not send out any distress signals before crashing, and that communications between the vessel and air traffic control didn’t indicate anything abnormal before the crash, casting doubt on a cockpit breach.
They have completed an initial investigative report about the crash, but have not released its full contents.
No survivors were found at the crash site, and the plane’s black box was recovered several feet underground.
The investigation is the latest probe into safety on a Boeing jet after a faulty flight control system led to multiple fatal crashes aboard the Boeing 737 MAX, the successor to the 737-800.