On March 21, 2022, China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crashed in a mountainous region of Guangxi, killing everyone on board. The Boeing 737-800 was transporting 132 people from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, to Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, when something went disastrously wrong.
Chinese Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 Plane Crash Investigation Update - Click here for the last update on May 18, 2022
Authorities say Flight MU5735 abruptly lost altitude at approximately 2:20 p.m. The aircraft plunged from a cruising altitude of 29,100 to roughly 8,000 feet in just over a minute. A city manager from nearby Wuzhou confirmed that a surveillance camera captured footage of the China Eastern Airlines crash. Video footage of the crash shows the Boeing 737-800 colliding with terrain at a nearly vertical angle, followed by flames and black smoke.
Locals who rushed to the crash area found only shattered debris with no signs of survivors. Chinese state media issued a report in the aftermath of the crash, noting the “situation with casualties remains unclear.” However, officials said that after searching for over a day, no survivors were found, which makes the China Eastern crash the deadliest air disaster the country has seen in over a decade.
The Boeing 737-800 operating as China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 had been in service for nearly seven years. Boeing delivered the twin-engine, single-aisle commercial plane in 2015.
An airline representative told the media that the plane departed from Kunming at 1:16 p.m. and was flying normally until the ground air traffic control station in Wuzhou noticed the aircraft experienced a sudden altitude change. Controllers lost contact with the plane before it impacted with terrain.
The Chinese government has dispatched officials to investigate the cause of the China Eastern 5735 crash. The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) appointed a senior air safety investigator as a U.S. accredited representative to the investigation of the China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 crash.
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What Caused the China Eastern Airlines Crash?
China Eastern Airlines MU-5735 Investigation Update (May 2022): U.S. officials assisting in the China Eastern crash investigation now believe someone in the cockpit may have intentionally brought the airliner down. Multiple news agencies reported on May 18, 2022, that data from the plane's black boxes indicate human input orders to the controls sent the airliner into a nosedive. While this is a preliminary assessment, American officials involved in the crash investigation are focused on the actions of the pilot, though the possibility of a passenger entering the cockpit and deliberately causing the China Eastern crash remains a possibility.
Following the crash, China Eastern Airlines announced that it “will actively cooperate with relevant investigations.” Commercial airline crash investigations typically take 18 months or more to complete, so it will be a while before we know the official cause of the MU-5735 crash.
Reports in the area at the time of the crash do not indicate that weather was a factor. The temperature at the time was approximately 86 degrees Fahrenheit with winds at less than 12 miles per hour, and visibility at 10 miles.
The China Eastern crash involved a Boeing 737-800, part of Boeing’s so-called Next Generation (NG) line of narrow-body commercial jets that have a maximum range of over 3,000 miles. The 737 MAX is the newer version of Boeing’s NG line.
In the aftermath of the crash, China Eastern Airlines announced that it was grounding Boeing 737-800s in its fleet.
Veteran aviation attorney Ronald L. M. Goldman, who recently represented clients in cases stemming from the Lion Air Flight 610 crash and the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, says aviation accident investigators typically focus on:
- The actions of the pilots before the crash
- The training of the pilots
- The maintenance records for the Boeing 737-800
- The wreckage for indicators of possible mechanical failure
- The wreckage scatter for clues as to when any critical part might have failed while in flight
- Analysis of the black box information, if available, in an effort to determine if any system, mechanical or software, malfunctioned causing the nosedive.
Flightradar24 data for China Eastern Airlines flight #MU5735 from Kunming to Guangzhou.— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) March 21, 2022
At 06:20:59 UTC the Boeing 737-800 aircraft started to lose altitude very fast. At 06:22:35 UTC last ADS-B signal showed vertical speed -31.000 feet per minute.https://t.co/Lwo8klGf8g pic.twitter.com/UEZaa9asua
Investigators are trying to determine why the plane was at a nearly 90-degree angle when it crashed. Commercial airliners are designed to maintain flight. A plane like the Boeing 737-800 has a natural tendency to level off midflight. Achieving a nosedive at this angle requires tremendous force on the horizontal stabilizers, which control the airliner’s pitch (whether the plane is nose up or nose down) The horizontal stabilizers are located on either side of the plane’s tail.
Did the plane plummet to the ground nose first because the horizontal stabilizers failed? Or is it possible that one of the pilots deliberately crashed the plane? According to Goldman, the possibility of intentional sabotage is “a big question mark.”
Goldman and his firm successfully represented the family of the only two American residents killed in the 2015 Germanwings Flight 9525 crash. Investigators found that the Germanwings pilot deliberately steered the plane into mountainous terrain, killing everyone on board. Baum Hedlund’s trial team in the case of Selke, et al. v. Germanwings GMBH, et al. was a finalist for the 2018 Elite Trial Lawyers award in the consumer protection practice area.
China Plane Crash Pilots Were Experienced
The pilot in command of China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 had accrued more than 6,000 hours of flight time in his career. His co-pilot’s flying career dates back to the early days of China’s post-Mao era and includes training on aircraft ranging from Soviet biplanes to modern Boeing jets. Together, the two men had accrued roughly 39,000 hours of flying time.
China’s state-owned Ta Kung Pao newspaper and Hong Kong’s Phoenix Magazine identified the pilot as Yang Hongda and the first co-pilot as Zhang Zhengping. The newspaper said Mr. Zhang was “one of the few veteran pilots, a mentor to young captains, and a witness to the rapid growth of Yunnan’s aviation industry since the era of reform and opening-up began 40 years ago.” He mentored over 100 pilots in his career, including Mr. Yang, who had steadily risen in the ranks at China Eastern Airlines.
A third pilot who had more than 500 hours of flying time was also on the plane. Authorities said all of the men had valid health certificates, were fit to fly, had “stable” family conditions, and did not have any financial difficulties.
The Boeing 737-800 is the most popular Boeing jet in service and is widely considered a workhorse in commercial aviation. According to Boeing, more than 5,000 737-800 planes were sold throughout the world between 1998 and 2020, more than any other Boeing model. It is the most widely used commercial plane in the U.S. and China.
But while many airlines throughout the world count the 737-800 as a large part of their fleet, U.S. aviation authorities have issued safety warnings, including an emergency airworthiness directive.
China Eastern Airlines Background
China Eastern Airlines is China’s second-largest commercial airline behind China Southern Airlines. With a fleet of hundreds of planes, Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines provides service to 177 countries. The Chinese government is a major shareholder in the airline.
Like other major airlines in China, China Eastern Airlines has a modern fleet of aircraft and has been one of the world’s largest aircraft buyers of the last decade. Until the China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735, the airline had not seen a fatal crash since 2004.
The China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crash is one of the worst that China has seen since 1994, when a China Northwest Airlines plane crashed while transporting 160 people from Xian to Guangzhou. There were no survivors. China’s last fatal commercial airline crash happened in 2010 when an Embraer E-190 plane operated by Henan Airlines crashed during approach to Yichun airport.
China Eastern Airlines Crash Investigation Update
Preliminary Assessment From U.S. Investigators Says Plane May Have Been Brought Down Intentionally | May 18, 2022
U.S. officials assisting in the China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crash investigation say data from the flight’s black boxes indicates the plane may have been brought down intentionally. The crash of China Eastern Airlines 5735 has been a mystery for months, but now investigators say they are narrowing their focus to the actions of the pilots, though they have not ruled out the possibility that someone entered the cockpit to sabotage the plane.
Rumors of a pilot deliberately crashing the plane began in April after Feng Zhenglin, director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, asked Communist Party officials to "stabilize the thoughts of their teams, make utmost efforts to solve employees' problems in their work, life and study, and ensure their physical and mental health…In particular, officials should do their best in the ideological work of pilots to lay a solid foundation for the front line to operate safely," Feng said.
Chinese officials have not reported any mechanical or technical problems with the aircraft, nor has there been any official guidance for other airliners, which would be customary if there were safety concerns. This fact, CNN reports, lends credibility to American officials’ preliminary assessment of cockpit sabotage.
No Probable Cause of China Eastern Airlines Crash in Preliminary Report | April 20, 2022
The preliminary report from investigators looking into the China Eastern crash last month did not offer any clues as to what may have caused China’s deadliest air disaster in over a decade. The report summarized information on what was working properly before the fatal crash:
- Officials found no issues with the Boeing 737-800 before it departed for Guangzhou in southern China.
- The plane did not have any dangerous cargo onboard.
- All of the pilots met China’s standards for flying commercial planes.
- Communication remained normal throughout the flight until the airliner entered into a steep nosedive and crashed.
Per the report: “The investigation found that the flight and cabin crew onboard, as well as the maintenance and clearance personnel, met qualification requirements…Before it deviated from cruising altitude, there was nothing abnormal in wireless communications between the crew and air control or in the control commands.”
Commercial airliners like the Boeing 737-800 are designed to maintain flight. For an airliner to fly straight down like China Eastern Flight 5735, it would require extreme force to be continuously applied to the horizontal stabilizers. A mechanical failure or an issue with the flight software could potentially force the plane into a nose-first dive, as could a pilot deliberately sabotaging the plane. The preliminary report issued Wednesday does not delve into any of these possibilities.
What we still do not know is what, if anything, can be learned about the crash from the aircraft’s black boxes. The flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder have both been recovered and officials in the U.S. have been helping Chinese officials download the data. However, both black boxes sustained severe damage in the crash, so it may take some time before we get information from either.
“Although “black boxes” are designed to withstand the impact forces from crashes, they are not totally indestructible. They can be damaged to the point that it could become difficult or impossible to extract reliable data or recordings from them. Early reports suggest that the impact forces in this case were severe enough to cause considerable damage to them,” says aviation attorney Ronald L. M. Goldman. “Nevertheless, experts have continued to work on this, and, we hope, will ultimately be successful and get sufficient information to help unlock the mystery of this disaster.”
Civil Aviation Administration of China Refutes Rumor That Co-Polit Caused Crash | April 12, 2022
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has officially refuted the rumor that China Eastern Airlines flight MU5375 was caused by the co-pilot’s error. Some have speculated that the crash that took 132 lives was caused by the co-pilot, but the CAAC was quick to say the rumors are only online speculation. The black box data that the rumor mill claims to prove that the co-pilot did something wrong is reportedly still being investigated, so there is no solid evidence to back that claim. Additionally, there were three pilots aboard the flight, and it not yet clear which two were at the controls, it is unclear which co-pilot the rumors are attempting to blame.
Officials from CAAC have said that humoring the rumors would hurt the public’s confidence in its investigation of flight MU5375. It did not give a clear estimate of when the investigation would likely conclude. Moreover, it is hurtful to the grieving families to publicize rank speculation about the cause or causes that led to the tragedy; the truth will help – mere rumors will not.
The CAAC restated that it is working with members of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to uncover the true cause of the crash. The regulatory industry also said it is prioritizing the physical and mental health of pilots, flight attendants, and airline workers who have been impacted and harrowed by the loss of flight MU5375 and all 132 people onboard. It has urged airlines operating in China to provide much-needed mental health services to its staff during this time.
China’s Aviation Authority Promises Improvements for Safety Checks After Flight 5735 Crash | April 7, 2022
The director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has promised to step up the country’s safety checks with “extreme” vigilance in the wake of the China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crash in March. During a conference this week, CAAC director Feng Zhenglin urged officials to improve their knowledge of air safety regulations and implement more robust safety inspections to detect risks.
According to Feng, “the entire industry must draw a lesson from the painful [MU5735 crash] experience and strive to prioritize the life and safety of people in conducting post-disaster follow-up measures, summarize the lessons learned based on investigation outcomes to strengthen safety and ensure the absolute safety of people’s lives.”
NTSB and Honeywell Analyzing Black Boxes from MU5735 | April 5, 2022
Authorities from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Honeywell International are assisting Chinese authorities to analyze data from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. NTSB officials told the media that the cockpit voice recorder was sent to its lab in Washington DC for analysis. Now, the agency says it is also analyzing the flight data recorder, which tracks a plane’s flight path and how its systems are performing.
Honeywell International is the manufacturer of both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. Company technicians are also assisting with the analysis of both devices, which were damaged in the crash.
China Eastern Airlines’ Entire Fleet of Boeing 737-800 Planes Remain Grounded | April 4, 2022
It has been two weeks since the fatal crash of China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735, and the airline still has its entire fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft grounded. The airline decided to ground all 108 of its 737-800 planes on March 21, 2022, the day of the MU5735 crash in Southern China. Less than a quarter of China Eastern Airlines’ Boeing 737 planes are currently in use. Of the 150 737’s in the fleet, only 35 are listed as active.
Team of Investigators from Boeing and NTSB Arrives in China | April 2, 2022
Officials from the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Boeing arrived in China to investigate the China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crash. The agency confirmed that a seven-member team will assist in the investigation and try to determine what caused the China Eastern crash, one of the country’s worst aviation disasters in recent history. Chinese officials have collected more than 49,000 pieces of debris from the crash. The government plans to issue a preliminary report on the crash by April 20, which is in line with the timetables established in the Convention on International Civil Aviation.
NTSB Analyzing China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 Cockpit Voice Recorder in Washington DC | April 1, 2022
Officials from the NTSB confirmed that the cockpit voice recorder is being analyzed at the agency’s lab in Washington DC. According to an NTSB spokesperson, the agency is “assisting the Civil Aviation Administration of China with the download of the cockpit voice recorder from China Eastern Flight 5735 in our lab in Washington."
China Eastern Airlines Crash Victims Identified | March 28, 2022
Officials have identified all 132 victims of the China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crash using DNA samples from relatives. Families of the victims visited the crash site Sunday on the seventh day of death, which is when the dead return home, according to East Asian custom. Recovery workers removed their helmets and held three minutes of silence in tribute to the deceased.
Officials have planned more than 600 trips for grieving relatives to visit the crash site.
Second Black Box Recovered from Crash Site | March 27, 2022
Search crews have located and recovered the second black box from the China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crash in southern China. Investigators are hopeful the flight data recorder that was recovered Sunday will provide clues as to what caused Flight 5735 to plummet from the sky and crash into mountainous terrain.
A flight data recorder stores the aircraft’s speed, altitude, mechanical performance, and other useful information. Last Wednesday, search crews found the other black box, the cockpit voice recorder, which was sent to Beijing for investigators to analyze.
Workers found the flight data recorder five feet underground. Government officials say the impact of the China Eastern Airlines crash created a 65-foot crater in the side of a mountain. Most of the debris from the crash has been found within 30 yards of the impact point. However, a four-foot piece of debris that officials believe is a part of the wreckage was found roughly six miles from the impact point.
So far, crews have recovered parts of the Boeing 737’s wings, engines, landing gear, and other pieces of wreckage, in addition to the two black boxes.
Investigators Find Engine Components, Part of Wing | March 24, 2022
Officials said they have located engine components and a part of the plane’s wing. Additionally, a four-foot piece of debris that investigators believe was part of the plane was found roughly six miles from the crash site. It may become of crucial interest to determine precisely to what part of the plane this debris belonged, and exactly where it was found. Conceivably, this could be an important clue in the effort to determine what initiated the steep nosedive that ended in tragedy. Search teams have now widened the search radius in the hopes of locating the plane’s flight data recorder.
Officials Reportedly Recover Cockpit Voice Recorder | March 23, 2022
One of the black boxes from the downed China Eastern Airlines plane crash has been found. Officials said the cockpit voice recorder did not get as damaged in the crash as some expected. The cockpit voice recorder casing was badly damaged but the hard discs inside that store data is “relatively complete,” authorities say.
The cockpit voice recorder could prove vital as investigators listen to communications between the pilot and co-pilot, as well as any alarms sounding as the plane was going down. Investigators are hopeful that they will recover the other black box, the flight data recorder, which should provide valuable technical information on the operation of the plane prior to the crash. The flight data recorder is located on the back of the plane, which means it was likely better protected in a nose-first crash than the cockpit voice recorder in the front of the plane.
China Eastern Investigation and Search Begins | March 22, 2022
China has deployed hundreds of rescue workers to the remote site of the MU-5735 crash. While there had been some hope for survivors in the immediate aftermath of the crash, officials said the speed with which the plane collided with terrain made the crash impossible to survive. Authorities have begun searching for the plane’s black boxes, which would give investigators more information on what happened before the crash. Officials hope to recover the flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, and other useful data. Due to the severity of the impact and the destruction of the plane, however, it is possible that the black boxes were either destroyed or badly damaged.