China Eastern B738 near Guangzhou on Mar 21st 2022, lost altitude and impacted terrain
Last Update: March 20, 2023 / 16:11:01 GMT/Zulu time
China's Civil Aviation Authority (CAAC) confirmed the aircraft has crashed. Contact with the aircraft was lost in the Wuzhou region (about 120nm west of Guangzhou).
The airline confirmed the crash and fatalities in a note to the stock exchanges (though not stating how many people had died in the crash).
China's Civil Aviation Authority have opened an investigation into the crash. The NTSB have appointed an accredited representative and have joined the investigation together with representatives of Boeing and engine manufacturer CFM.
Guangxi Region's (including Wuzhou Region) Emergency Services reported contact with the aircraft was lost at 14:15L (06:15Z).
On Mar 22nd 2022 the CAAC held a press conference stating that the search for the black boxes is still underway. No survivors have been found at the crash site, which has two parts, part of the aircraft fell onto one side of a hill and the other part onto the other side. A safety inspection of all Boeing 737s operating in China will be conducted in the next weeks. In detail the CAAC stated: China Eastern Airlines flight MU5735 took off from Kunming at 13:16 on March 21, and entered the Guangzhou control area at a cruising altitude of 8900 meters at 14:17. At 14:20, the controller noticed that the aircraft's was sharply descending and called the crew several times but without reply. At 14:23 the radar signal of the aircraft disappeared. The aircraft was found crashed in Teng County, Wuzhou City, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. There were 123 passengers (all Chinese, no foreigner) on board, 3 pilots, 5 flight attendants and 1 safety officer. The aircraft had first flown on Jun 22nd 2015 and had since accumulated 18,239 flight hours in 8,986 flight cycles.
In a second press briefing on Mar 23rd 2022 the CAAC reported one of the black boxes has been found, subsequently adding the black box was substantially damaged and it is unclear at this time, whether it is the FDR or CVR. ATC communication was normal until loss of communication (no emergency call or reports of difficulties), weather was okay. The captain had accumulated 6,709 flight hours total, the first officer 31,769 flight hours, the second officer 556 hours, all of them in good family relations. The aircraft was in an airworthy condition, all maintenance had been done in strict compliance with regulations and requirements.
In a third press conference the CAAC reported although the black box is badly damaged, the storage unit looks intact and has been determined as the Cockpit Voice Recorder CVR. It has been sent to Beijing for download and decoding. The second officer was an observer to increase experience.
On Mar 24th 2022 the search and rescue services reported they have so far searched 46,000 square meters (495,000 square feet) and are to widen the area by 5 times in the quest to find the second black box. The search teams have also located and recovered engine parts.
On Mar 24th 2022 the CAAC reported in their 4th press conference, that a large piece of debris (1.3 meters by 0.1 meters) from the aircraft was found in farmland at Yatang Squad (coordinates N23.3111 E111.0002) in Siwang Village (coordinates N23.3054 E110.9711), about 12km west of the crash site and about 3.2km southeast of the last ADS-B position in cruise flight at 29100 feet MSL (it needs to be pointed out, we don't know whether this separated before or during the dive at this time). The main debris at the crash site otherwise is confined within 30 meters radius, 20 meters deep. At this time it is not yet clear whether the data of the already recovered black box can be read out, there is damage to the storage unit.
On Mar 24th 2022 China Eastern Airlines and all their subsidiaries temporarily grounded their 223 Boeing 737-800 aircraft for "sweeping safety overhauls". All other aircraft in their fleet remain in operation. The airline stated that there had been no history of repairs to the pickle forks on the accident aircraft.
With the drone video by China News Agency (see below) it is possible to locate the crash sites at positions N23.3239 E111.1121 (both drone videos) and N23.3252 E111.1140 (see first photo by China News Agency), about 245 meters apart. In April 2019 this area was just forest with no development or roads at all, it has since been developed by the mining company, first signs of the roads appear in November 2019. The highway seen in the video is the Cangshuo Expressway (S40), the village is the Molang Village (Mo Lang Cun).
On Mar 25th 2022 the CAAC reported in the 5th press conference, that the gear box of an engine as well as the main landing gear have been found and recovered. Some of the aircraft parts showed traces of fire. The CVR's memory chip is damaged and needs to be sent to the chip manufacturer for repair according to recommendation by the manufacturer. At this time there are no time estimates of when the data can be downloaded.
On Mar 26th 2022 the CAAC reported in their 6th press conference, that the part found in Yatang was identified as trailing edge of a winglet of the crashed aircraft. Another piece of debris was found about 2.3km north of the debris at Yatang in Lixiu Village. The arc-shaped object is being examined and identified. The search for the second black box is still underway, in the meantime an ELT was found at the main crash site near the location where the already recovered black box had been found. 120 of the occupants of the aircraft (thereof 114 passengers and 6 crew) have so far been identified. No common explosives, inorganic or organic, have been discovered so far in 66 samples in 41 tests. A preliminary report in both Chinese and English will be submitted to ICAO within a month (until Apr 21st 2022).
On Mar 27th 2022 the CAAC reported the second black box (FDR) has been found and recovered, it was found about 1.5 meters below the surface at the eastern side of the main crash site (on the steep hillside between the two crash sites). In a press conference later Sunday the CAAC reported they needed to remove tree roots at the steep hill about 40 meters east of the main impact site, then an orange cylindric metallic object with English writing on it was found, which turned out to be the storage unit of the flight data recorder. The storage unit appears relatively intact and has already been sent to Beijing for download and decoding. The CVR is still being processed with no time line known yet when that storage unit could be ready for download. Despite the danger of land slides from the hill in rain the recovery activity continues, so far 33,777 objects have been recovered (standing Sunday Mar 27th noon). A new key finding has been made after searching for and interviewing many witnesses, the aircraft was videotaped about 8km from the crash site, the video is being processed. All 132 occupants of the aircraft are now officially confirmed dead.
On Mar 29th 2022 the CAAC reported both black boxes (respective their storage units) have been severly damaged, repair work is under way. The search at the site continues to recover aircraft parts of interest. All 132 occupants have been identified via DNA samples. The CAAC reiterated in response to several media reports and so called experts (one of them pretending to be of the US NTSB), that there had been no emergency call and no information about any abnormal flight situation before the aircraft began to rapidly descend and during the descent.
On Apr 20th 2022 the CAAC released a statement indicating, the preliminary report has been submitted to ICAO. The data restoration of the data of CVR and FDR is still in progress. The aircraft left assigned cruise altitude of 8900 meters at 14:20:55L. At 14:21:40L radar recorded the last position at 3380 meters altitude, speed over ground at 1010 kph at a heading of 117 degrees, the radar signal was lost at that point. The main wreckage was found in a puddle of 45 square meters and a depth of 2.7 meters at position N23.3238 E111.1123 and included horizontal stabilier, vertical tail, left and right engines, left and right wings, fuselage parts, cockpit parts as well as landing gear. Those recovered parts were transported to a warehouse for further analysis. Traces of fire were in the forest surrounding the crash site. The trailing edge of the right winglet was recovered about 12km from the main impact site. Flight and Cabin Crew qualification and certification was without flaw, the aircraft was airworthy with no deferred entries in the tech log, there was no hazardeous cargo on board. Ground based navigation facilities all operated normally, no dangerous weather was forecast for the area when the aircraft departed its cruising altitude. Radio communication with the aircraft was normal until 14:16L (the last radio communication).
On Mar 20th 2023 the CAAC stated that the investigation is in full progress, the technical investigation team has conducted detailed inspections of the wreckage to determine the working status of key control elements before the crash, conducted experiments on more than 100 pieces of important wreckage and analysed the cause of the damage. In addition maintenance, airline organisation and management, air traffic control services, airport ground support, mass and balance, luggage, cargo, mail and possible dangerous goods have been investigated. Performance studies, simulation and validation using flight simulators and real aircraft have been done. However, the accident is very complicated and very rare, hence the investigation is still carrying on and is going to analyse possible causes and conduct experimental verification.
Mode-S data transmitted by the aircraft suggest the aircraft was enroute at 8900 meters/FL291 about 130nm west of Guangzhou at 14:20L (06:20Z) when the aircraft began a rapid descent, the last position from the transponder was received from position N23.34 E111.15 at 3200 feet MSL at 14:23L (06:23Z).
This article is published under license from Avherald.com. © of text by Avherald.com.
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