Flight data recovered from the black boxes of the China Eastern Boeing 737-800 airliner crash on March 21 showed that the plane’s sudden vertical “death plunge” into a mountain was an intentional act carried out by someone in the cockpit, a new report revealed.
In an exclusive published Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal said people close to U.S. officials conducting a preliminary assessment of the accident determined from flight data that manual actions performed on the flight controls directed the plane into its sharp plunge into a mountain.
“The plane did what it was told to do by someone in the cockpit,” one of the sources told The Wall Street Journal. The preliminary assessment mirrors a Leeham News and Analysis trade publication report last month that said the flight data indicated the pilot deliberately inputted flight controls causing the crash.
The source noted that Chinese officials leading the investigation haven’t found any mechanical issues or flight control malfunctions that would support a different theory. If evidence of such issues were found, Boeing and airline safety regulatory agencies would typically issue industry-wide alerts, but that hasn’t happened in this case.
Officials involved in investigating the crash are now focusing on the actions taken by the pilot, though they’re also exploring the possibility that someone broke into the cockpit to intentionally cause the crash, the source said.
China Eastern told The Wall Street Journal that evidence so far has not shown whether or not any aircraft problems were present. They denied the plausibility of an intruder into the cockpit and noted that Chinese officials said no emergency codes were activated from the plane before it crashed.
In its preliminary report released April 20, the airline said the black box data analysis was still underway.
The China Eastern Airlines Flight MU5735 was flying between Kunming in southwest China and Guangzhou on March 21 when it crashed in a mountainous and heavily wooded area of Guangxi. The plane’s sudden descent was captured on surveillance video.
According to the commercial flight tracking service Flightradar24, Flight MU5735’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS–B) indicated the aircraft lost 31,000 feet of altitude in the span of a minute.
“Flight #MU5735 was flying from Kunming to Guangzhou,” Flightradar tweeted. “It took off from Kunming at 05:11 UTC. It was cruising at 29.100 feet until 06:20:59 when it suddenly started to lose altitude very fast.”
According to the aircraft’s altitude logs, the aircraft fell more than 21,000 feet. It appeared to briefly regain altitude around 8,000 feet before continuing to drop dramatically.
Flight MU5735 was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members at the time it went down. Nearby farmers described the aircraft going down with a loud crash. Those local residents described the aircraft breaking into debris. Fire and smoke could also be seen in the area of the crash.