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File image of a China Eastern Airlines plane. Photo credit: Sergey Kustov, Wikimedia Commons.

The Search for Answers About Crashed Chinese Airplane Continues

The investigation continues into the cause of Monday’s aviation disaster in China’s Guangxi province. No survivors are expected, which would mark the most lethal plane crash in the country in more than decade.

China Eastern Airlines flight EU5735 was carrying 132 passengers and crew from Kunming to Guangzhou. According to global flight tracking service Flightradar24, the flight reached a cruising altitude of 29,100 feet and appeared to be on a normal flight path. Fifty-three minutes into the 115-minute flight, the plane plummeted nearly vertically to 7,425 feet, briefly recovered, and then plummeted again.

Video footage from distant surveillance cameras shows the plane in a rapid nosedive before disappearing behind a hillside. According to Bloomberg News, the plane was likely travelling near the speed of sound just before it slammed into a forested hillside.

The impact generated massive damage, which, together with the forested, remote location and heavy rains yesterday, has slowed the investigation. As of press time, workers had found one of two flight recorder boxes, also known as black boxes. The one recovered is the plane’s cockpit voice recorder, which had not been analyzed yet. Civil Aviation Administration of China officials said they believe that though the box was heavily damaged, it appears that the storage units “while also damaged to some extent, are relatively complete.”

The plane was a Boeing 737-800 aircraft, one of the most common planes currently in use, comprising about 17 percent of all passenger planes. Unlike its sibling aircraft, the 737-MAX, the Boeing 737-800 series has a good safety record.

A plane falling from the sky in this way has experts baffled. An article in UK-based The Independent included the following descriptions from a variety of aviation experts: “very odd,” “hard to get an airplane to do this,” and “very unusual.” The article, and others, report on other plane crashes with similar trajectories, however, they all also include speculation that the crash may have been intentional, including in a report aired by CNN.

According to The New York Times, information about the crash may be hard to obtain.

“The Chinese government, faced with its worst air plane disaster in more than a decade, has moved quickly to control the flow of information, using a playbook it has honed over recent years that deploys propaganda and censorship,” the article said. “Under [President Xi Jinping], China has further tightened sweeping controls on information. Dissent has been crushed, and the media and the Internet tamed. When disasters strike, official messaging and information controls place an emphasis on 'positive energy,' or uplifting messages that highlight patriotism and place the governing Communist Party in a positive light. Officials pledge to hold accountable whoever is responsible, but also quash independent calls for accountability.”

Immediate ramifications from the disaster included a grounding of nearly three-quarters of all flights scheduled in China yesterday. Among longer term ramifications, The Wall Street Journal reported the crash came at a critical time in the country’s dealings with Boeing, which was closing in on returning the 737-MAX aircraft to service in the country.

The search continues for the flight data recorder and to sift through the wreckage to uncover clues to discover why the crash happened.