China Plane Halted During Steep Dive, Climbed Briefly Before Crash

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Flight MU5735 from Kunming was cruising at about 29,000 feet when it suddenly dipped.

A China Eastern Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board went into a near-vertical dive and crashed in a remote mountainous area of southern China on Monday. It was the country’s worst air disaster in nearly a decade. Investigators are attempting to piece together the cause of the crash. Here’s what we know so far:

What happened?

Flight MU5735 from Kunming was cruising at about 29,000 feet (8,839 meters) and was about 100 miles from its destination in Guangzhou, Southern China, when it suddenly went into a steep descent. Over the next 1 minute and 35 seconds the plane lost altitude in a near vertical dive, which took it almost to the speed of sound, until it slammed into a hillside. All 132 people on board, including nine crew members, are presumed dead.

What are the possible scenarios?

At this juncture it’s too early to predict what caused the crash. Possibilities range from an equipment malfunction, to a weather-related event, to pilot illness or suicide, to a terrorist attack of some description. Nothing has been ruled out.

What are investigators looking for?

The primary focus of the investigation will be on the plane’s so-called black boxes – the flight data and cockpit recorders. The cockpit recorder, which should have captured the last conversations between pilots before the crash, has been recovered and sent for analysis. But it was “severely damaged” on impact and analysis is expected to take some time. The hunt for the flight data recorder is ongoing. The search has been hampered by bad weather.

Who were the pilots?

The pilots at the control of China Eastern Flight 5735 included one of China’s most experienced commercial aviators and a much younger captain with a family pedigree, according to media reports in China. The captain had 6,709 hours in the 737 model, while the first co-pilot had a total of 31,769 flying hours, officials said at a briefing. The second co-pilot had 556 hours of flying hours experience. They all had good performance records and stable family conditions.

What else do we know?

Shocking footage captured by a mining company’s surveillance camera appeared to show the flight’s final chilling seconds. Its authenticity could not be independently verified. One particular detail of note is that the aircraft’s dive appeared to have halted for about 10 seconds and it climbed briefly at about 8,000 feet before resuming its descent, according to data from Flightradar24. Chinese investigators said air traffic controllers tried multiple times to reach pilots of the doomed jet after it tipped into the dive, but received no response to their calls.

What have China Eastern and Boeing said?

China Eastern said it is carrying out a comprehensive investigation into the crash. A spokesman said the plane was brought into the fleet in June 2015, its maintenance followed a strict plan and its technical condition was normal and stable. The airline grounded all its Boeing 737-800 jets from Tuesday but has since emphasised that the move does not necessarily mean there are any safety issues with that type of aircraft. Boeing said in a message to all employees it was “deeply saddened” by the crash and had been in “close communication with customer and regulatory authorities since the accident.”

Who’s investigating the crash?

China’s Vice Premier Liu He has been tasked with overseeing the investigation, which will be carried out by the Civil Aviation Administration of China. Authorities will work alongside a senior investigator from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and representatives from Boeing and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Questions remain about the access foreign investigators will be given.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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