China Eastern crash probe eyes intentional action – sources

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Reuters

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WASHINGTON — Investigators investigating the crash of a China Eastern Airlines jet are looking into whether it was due to deliberate actions on the flight deck, with no previous evidence of a technical malfunction, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Tuesday that flight data from a Boeing 737-800 black box indicated someone in the cockpit deliberately brought down the plane, citing people familiar with US officials’ preliminary assessment.

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Boeing Co, the maker of the jet, and the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) declined to comment, referring questions to Chinese regulators.

The Boeing 737-800 crashed on March 21 en route from Kunming to Guangzhou after a sudden fall from cruising altitude in the mountains of Guangxi, killing all 123 passengers and nine crew on board.

It was the deadliest air disaster in mainland China in 28 years.

The pilots did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers and planes nearby during the rapid descent, authorities said.

China’s civil aviation authority said on April 11, in response to online rumors of a deliberate crash, that the speculation had “seriously misled the public” and “impacted the investigation work into the accident.”

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China Eastern could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday. The Wall Street Journal said the airline said in a statement no evidence had surfaced to determine whether or not there were any problems with the crashed plane. The Chinese Embassy declined to comment.

The 737-800 is a widely recognized ancestor to Boeing’s 737 MAX, but lacks the systems associated with fatal 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 that led to a protracted grounding of the MAX .

China Eastern grounded its entire fleet of 737-800 aircraft after the crash, but resumed flights in mid-April, which was widely seen at the time as ruling out any immediate new safety concerns about Boeing’s previous and still most prevalent model became.

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In a summary of an unreleased preliminary crash report last month, Chinese regulators failed to indicate any technical recommendations for the 737-800, which has been in service since 1997 with a strong safety record, experts said.

NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said in a May 10 Reuters interview that investigators from the board and Boeing had traveled to China to assist in the Chinese investigation. She noted that the investigation so far has not revealed any safety issues that would require urgent action.

Homendy said if the board has safety concerns, it will “issue urgent safety recommendations.”

The NTSB assisted Chinese investigators in reviewing black boxes at its US lab in Washington.

Boeing shares closed down 6.5%.

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Compiling a final report on the causes could take two years or more, Chinese officials said. Analysts say most crashes are caused by a cocktail of human and technical factors.

Deliberate accidents are extremely rare. Experts noted that the latest hypothesis left open the question of whether the action came from a pilot acting alone or the result of combat or intrusion, but sources emphasized that nothing has been confirmed.

In March 2015, a Germanwings co-pilot intentionally flew an Airbus A320 into a French mountainside, killing all 150 on board.

French investigators found that the 27-year-old was suffering from a suspected “psycho-depressive episode” that was not disclosed to his employer. They later called for better mental health policies and stronger peer support groups for pilots. (Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Tim Hepher in Paris and Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler, Marguerita Choy and Richard Pullin)

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