China Eastern Plane crash: Rescuers find engine parts, hunt for second black box

Rescuers conduct search operations at the site of a plane crash in Tengxian County in southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (Photo: AP)
Rescuers conduct search operations at the site of a plane crash in Tengxian County in southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (Photo: AP)


The box's positioning signal couldn't be detected at the scene, and its signal transmitter might have been damaged, state media says

HONG KONG : Search and rescue teams on Thursday discovered engine parts from the plane carrying 132 people that rammed into the mountains of southern China, as the hunt continued for the second black box.

With no signs of survivors three days after the crash, all aboard the Boeing 737 operated by China Eastern Airlines—nine aircrew and 123 passengers—are feared dead in what would be China’s worst air disaster in nearly three decades.

The first recovered black box was believed to be the cockpit voice recorder. Made by Honeywell International Inc., the devices—the second being the flight-data recorder—might provide vital evidence for investigators trying to understand what caused the plane to nosedive into a terraced field in China’s Guangxi region on Monday.

The positioning signal of the second black box—actually an orange-colored device—couldn’t be detected at the scene, and its signal transmitter might have been damaged, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported Thursday, citing experts.

Zhu Tao, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Administration of China, on Thursday said basic information about the incident had been submitted to the International Civil Aviation Organization and the U.S.’s National Transportation Safety Board. Relevant parties would be invited to take part in the investigation after it begins, Mr. Zhu told a news conference. Currently, authorities were focused on search-and-rescue efforts and were in the early evidence-gathering stage, he said.

The NTSB, which would serve as the lead U.S. representative for the accident investigation into the U.S.-manufactured plane, was still trying to secure Chinese approval Wednesday to expedite their entry into the country, U.S. officials said.

Shu Ping, director of the Aviation Safety Institute at the China Academy of Civil Aviation Science and Technology, told the People’s Daily that if a black box is in good condition, it would typically be sent to a government-designated laboratory, but if it sustained more serious damages, it would need to be sent to Honeywell, its manufacturer, for recovery processing. The People’s Daily is the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship outlet.

Speaking at the Thursday news briefing, Liu Xiaodong, a publicity director at China Eastern, rebuffed rumors that the airline had reduced maintenance costs. He said that even though the number of flights was down during the pandemic, such expenses have increased recently compared with 2019.

Rescuers, some in orange firefighter uniforms and red helmets and others in white hazmat suits gathered in the forested hill, where tree branches and pieces of plane wreckage lay scattered on the muddy ground, footage from CCTV showed. Some rescuers walked around puddles in their dusty gumboots, while others used red shovels to dig out a part of the plane’s wings. Among the wreckage, rescuers have found engine parts, officials said.

Weather conditions weren’t dangerous at the time of the crash, according to authorities. Beijing’s cabinet, the State Council, ordered an immediate investigation into the potential safety hazards in the civil aviation industry, the Ministry of Emergency Management said.

Air-traffic controllers and the crew on nearby flights repeatedly tried, in vain, to reach the jet after it crashed, recordings of the radio communication published by Chinese media, including the People’s Daily, showed.

More than 50 psychologists have arrived to provide counseling to the relatives of passengers who had rushed to the crash scene, and dozens of psychiatrists organized by Guangxi’s Wuzhou city are standing by, CCTV reported Thursday.

China Eastern’s Mr. Liu told reporters Thursday that the airline had created a task force to gather the demands of passengers’ family members.

There has been heavy rain this week at the crash site, where search teams have scoured tens of thousands of square meters of land looking for the missing passengers and plane wreckage. At one point, a landslide triggered by the rain blocked a key path in the crash site, CCTV reported.

China Eastern has been in contact with the families of all 123 passengers, but authorities haven’t released their names and that of the aircrew. A chief financial officer of a Shenzhen-listed company, and two people working for the Guangdong branch of a large accounting firm, were among the passengers, the companies have said.

Airline officials have said a captain and two co-pilots were on the plane, and that the second co-pilot was an observer on board to gain experience, a practice they said was in line with regulations.

According to state-controlled and industry media outlets, the captain, Yang Hongda, was the son of a senior pilot, and the first officer was identified as Zhang Zhengping, a five-star pilot nearing retirement who was among the first batch of pilots to be trained to fly commercial aircraft in the early years of China’s post-Mao reform era.

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