China Eastern Airlines 737 crash may have been intentional nosedive
May 18 2022 07:15 PM
Alex Macheras

By Alex Macheras

The China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737 crash that killed all 132 people onboard in March may have been caused deliberately, The Wall Street Journal reported. Data recovered from the plane's black box suggests someone in the cockpit had input controls that sent the plane into a near-vertical descent, The Journal reported, citing people familiar with US officials' preliminary assessment of the disaster.
"The plane did what it was told to do by someone in the cockpit" a person familiar with the report told The Journal.
The Boeing 737-800 plane, which was en route from Kunming to Guangzhou, was cruising at a steady altitude and speed before it started a rapid descent from 29,000 feet on March 12. It crashed minutes later into a mountainside in southern China's Guangxi province.
The pilots did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers and nearby planes during the rapid descent, authorities have said.
The crash was China’s worst-ever air disasters. China Eastern Airlines flight MU5735 was operating an afternoon passenger service with 132 onboard. The aircraft nosedived into a mountain range during the cruise phase of the flight. China’s government confirmed the “accident in a mountain range” in Tengxian, Guangxi, and China’s civil aviation authority said of the 132 people onboard, 9 were crew members and 123 passengers.
The aircraft involved was a young, 6-year old Boeing 737-800 — not to be confused with the newer Boeing 737 Max. The Boeing 737-800 is one of the world’s most popular, best-selling airline jets for short-haul and mid-haul flights, and over 5,000 of this specific variant (the -800) have been delivered by Boeing to airline customers worldwide. The 737-800 is in service with airlines including American Airlines, Ryanair, FlyDubai, Qantas, Ethiopian Airlines, and KLM. The 737-800 is part of the 737 NG or Next-Generation family – with more than 7,000 delivered since 1993 – and it has a strong safety record after nearly three decades of flights.
China Eastern Airlines initially grounded all of its Boeing 737-800 passenger jets following the crash but has since resumed operations of the jet.
China has among the best airline safety record in the world, operating a young fleet of aircraft predominantly from Boeing and Airbus. China’s busy domestic market operates within the rules and regulations of a very strict regulator, and prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, China would operate around 10,000 daily domestic flights. The last fatal jet accident was over a decade ago, back in 2010.
Screenshots of The Wall Street Journal story appeared to have been censored on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, and messaging app Wechat on Wednesday morning.
If intentionally caused by a pilot, the China Eastern crash would be the third major disaster in less than a decade to be attributed to pilot suicide. That includes Europe’s Germanwings flight in 2015 that was flown into a French mountain by its co-pilot, killing himself and 149 passengers and crew. Since 1950, there have been 24 such incidents of pilot or passenger suicide — including the September 11 attacks in the US — though many involved small aircraft that killed only the pilot.
Some crashes led to new safety requirements, such as having more than one pilot in the cockpit, having cabin crew enter the cockpit when a pilot steps out for a lavatory break, or making doors more resistant to intrusion from the cabin.
Boeing and the NTSB declined to comment to news agencies and referred queries to Chinese regulators.
The Boeing 737-800NG is the predecessor to the 737 MAX. The MAX was grounded worldwide for 20 months after two fatal crashes killed 346. It remains grounded in China. China was the first country to ground the MAX after the second crash. The US and most other countries cleared the planes to return to service more than a year ago, and while Chinese regulators have announced they will allow the MAX to resume flying, with changes, the aircraft have not yet returned to service.
In fact, China Southern Airlines, the largest Boeing customer in China, has removed more than 100 of the US manufacturer’s 737 MAX jets from its near-term fleet plans, citing uncertainty over deliveries.
China Southern Airlines chairman Ma Xu Lun said that Boeing’s MAX would be excluded from fleet deliveries until 2024. The carrier expects to take delivery of 78 aircraft in total over the period, down from 181 in a previous forecast in March. This is due to “uncertainty surrounding the delivery”, the airline explained.
Meanwhile in Europe, the CEO of the continent’s largest airline, Ryanair, blasted Boeing as the US aircraft manufacturer grapples with multiple crises across its business. The low-cost airline, one of the largest Boeing customers in the world, slammed the company's “very poor management” and has called for a shakeup at the top of the company.
Chief executive Michael O’Leary unleashed a damaging attack on the company, stating he agrees with the world’s second-largest aircraft leasing company which earlier stated, “Boeing has lost its way.” The European carrier has ordered nearly 400 jets from Boeing since 2010. "At the moment we think Boeing management is running around like headless chickens, not able to sell aircraft, and then even the aircraft they deliver, they're not able to deliver them on time” he added. “We’ve heard nothing from them on the 737 MAX 10”. “The management of Boeing in Seattle is very poor,” O’Leary said.

The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir    

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