China airplane crash that killed 132 likely intentional, say US officials

Authorities investigating the crash reportedly haven't flagged any mechanical issues.
Ameya Paleja

The China Eastern airplane crash that killed 132 people on board may have been an intentional act, people familiar with investigations conducted by U.S. officials in this matter told the Wall Street Journal.  

On March 21st this year, a Boeing 737-800 flying from Kunming in southwest China to Guangzhou in the south crashed under mysterious circumstances about an hour into the flight. 132 people on board included a 17-year-old boy on his first flight, six people traveling together for a funeral, and nine crew members, the WSJ said in its report. Alleged videos that emerged post the mishap showed an aircraft nosediving into the ground

What might have caused the crash?

Unlike the previous crashes involving the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, the China Eastern crash did not result in a flurry of 737-800 groundings around the world. The aircraft, considered the workhorse of the airline industry, was grounded by the Chinese aviation regulator immediately following the crash but was brought back into service about a month following the incident. 

The plane reportedly slammed into the ground with such force that it created a 66-foot-deep hole in the ground. The cockpit voice recorder was found on March 23, while the flight data recorder was buried several feet underground on March 27, ABC News reported

While investigations into the mishap could take over a year to complete, Chinese officials who are leading the investigations haven't flagged any mechanical issues or flight control problems with the aircraft. A person familiar with the preliminary assessment of the information available from the flight data recorder conducted by U.S. officials said that the plane followed the instructions given by someone in the cockpit. 

Who caused the crash? 

The aircraft was cruising at 29,000 feet when it suddenly lost altitude and plummeted to the ground at 30,000 feet per minute. At this rate, passengers would have been likely flung to the aircraft ceiling, Fortune had reported earlier. The aircraft then recovered from the drop but only briefly before crashing into the ground. Air traffic controllers tried to contact the cockpit after seeing the aircraft suddenly lose altitude but received no response. 

ABC News reported that one of the pilots may have been struggling with some personal issues right before the crash. However, the airline reiterated its statement from March to the WSJ that its pilots were financially stable and in good health and family conditions. 

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The airline also ruled out a possible cockpit intrusion since the Chinese aviation authorities have previously confirmed that no emergency code was received from the aircraft prior to the crash. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has released a summary of its findings from its preliminary investigation earlier this year and noted that communications between air-traffic controllers and the cockpit crew were normal, WSJ said in its report. 

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a statement that all information concerning the crash will come from CAAC, although it is not sure when and whether the Chinese regulator plans to divulge the details of its investigation, ABC News reported.

Under these circumstances, we might never know what happened on that fateful day when China Eastern flight MU5735 did not make it to Guangzhou airport.