NEW DELHI: A Chinese airliner that crashed on March 21 killing all 132 people on board may have been flown deliberately into a nosedive in its final moments, a news report said on Tuesday, citing preliminary findings by American officials who analysed data from the flight’s black box.
It was travelling from Kunming in Yunnan province to Guangzhou on China’s southeastern coast when it crashed outside the city of Wuzhou in the Guangxi region.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) cited unnamed officials as saying that the flight information recorded in the black box suggested inputs were made to cockpit controls that put the plane in a fatal plunge.
“The plane did what it was told to do by someone in the cockpit,” said a person familiar with American officials’ preliminary assessment, the report said. China Eastern flight MU5735 went into a near vertical nosedive less than an hour before it was meant to arrive at Guangzhou, with flight tracking and at least one purported video of its final moments showing the plane plummeting to the ground at an almost 90-degree angle.
The Boeing 737-800 jet, data recorded by flight tracking service FlightRadar showed, dropped from 29,000 feet to the ground in less than two minutes – before the crash, the aircraft briefly levelled off but then plunged again before eventually erupting into a fiery blaze on a hillside.
The WSJ report stressed the assessments were still preliminary and more information could change the understanding of what may have happened.
A preliminary report by China’s aviation regulator released on April 20 found no problems with the aircraft or the cargo, and that the plane appeared normal until its deadly plunge. The Chinese report did not establish a cause for the crash.
There is also a possibility that someone else on the plane could have broken into the cockpit and deliberately caused the crash, the WSJ cited its sources as saying.
While several hijacking cases have resulted in a crash, most notably during the 9/11 terror attacks, deliberate crashes by commercial pilots have been recorded twice since 1999.
That year, the first officer in the cockpit of EgyptAir Flight 990 turned off the autopilot and the engines when the plane’s captain stepped out to relieve himself – the jet crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 217 on board.
Similarly, in march 2015, the first officer of Germanwings flight 9525 locked the captain out of the cockpit before crashing the plane into a mountain in France. In all, 150 people on board the Airbus A320 were killed.