Parts of engine found in China Eastern plane crash search

Teams are looking for flight data recorder from flight MU5735, which crashed in southern China on Monday.

Rescue teams in red and blue uniforms stand in the mud as they search the China Eastern plane crash site
Teams at the site where a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane crashed on Monday found part of an engine as they searched for the plane's second black box [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

Recovery teams in China have found part of an engine of the China Eastern Airlines passenger plane that plunged into a mountainside with 132 people on board, as they search for the aircraft’s second black box through mud and rain.

The first black box – the cockpit voice recorder – was found on Wednesday and was in relatively good condition based on an early assessment, a Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) official told reporters. The recording material was being sent to Beijing for analysis, the official said.

The cockpit voice recorder is likely to provide investigators with details of the communications between the three pilots who were on the Boeing 737-800 plane.

Flight MU5735 was on its way from the southwestern city of Kunming to Guangzhou on Monday when it suddenly plummeted from its cruising altitude at about the time when it should have started its descent for landing.

According to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, the plane briefly appeared to pull out of its nosedive, before plunging again into a heavily forested hillside in the mountainous Guangxi region of southern China.

Chinese authorities said the pilots did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers during the rapid descent.

The flight’s captain, hired in January 2018, had 6,709 hours’ flying experience, while the first and second officers had 31,769 hours and 556 hours, respectively, a China Eastern official said on Wednesday. One co-pilot was an observer to build up experience, the airline said, without disclosing the names of the pilots.

A grieving woman is held up by two men as she visits the site of the China Eastern crash
Grieving relatives arrived at the site where flight MU5735 crashed on March 24. No survivors have been found from Monday’s disaster [Noel Celis/AFP]

Phoenix Weekly, a magazine published by a Phoenix TV, a pro-Beijing private-sector broadcaster, cited an aviation expert who identified the captain as Yang Hongda, the son of a China Eastern captain, and the first officer as Zhang Zhengping, a pilot with 40 years of experience who mentored other pilots.

Southern Weekly, a large Guangdong-based newspaper, which only identified the crew by their surnames, reported Yang, 32, had a one-year-old daughter, while Zhang, 59, was one of China’s first generation of commercial pilots with an impeccable safety record who was expected to retire this year. The newspaper said the less-experienced second officer’s surname was Ni.

Jimu News, an arm of the Hubei Daily newspaper, identified him as 27-year-old Ni Gongtao.

China Eastern did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the reports.

No survivors have been found, but officials on Wednesday said human tissue had been found.

Roads leading to the crash site remained closed to all but villagers and those allowed entry by police and officials manning makeshift checkpoints.

The crash investigation is being led by China but the United States has been invited to take part because the aircraft was designed and manufactured there. The plane’s two engines were made by CFM International, a joint venture between GE and Safran that is the only engine producer for the 737-800.

The US National Transportation Safety Board said on Wednesday it had not yet determined if investigators would travel to China in light of strict visa and quarantine requirements.

Source: Reuters