A month ago, a Boeing 737 crashed in China, killing all 132 people on board. The cause of the accident continues to be a mystery.
Munich/Wuzhou – It is unclear what exactly can be seen in the video shared by the Chinese state newspaper People’s Daily . Is it part of the unfortunate machine that is falling vertically to the ground at breakneck speed, or is it the plane itself? The video surfaced just hours after a Boeing 737 crashed in southwest China* and was also shared by other Chinese state media. However, what it reveals is still as puzzling as the plane crash itself. Now, a month after the crash, many unanswered questions remain.
#China Eastern Airlines has halted all of its Boeing 737-800 flights after a #Boeing 737 passenger plane crashed in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on Monday afternoon with 132 aboard. pic.twitter.com/U13mv8sxl1
— People’s Daily, China (@PDChina) March 21, 2022
The Boeing 737-800 of the China Eastern airline fell on March 21 in Guangxi province in a wooded area that was difficult to access*. The nine crew members and 123 passengers who were en route from Kunming to Guangzhou have all died. A week after the accident, the remains of all 132 victims were identified. Many relatives traveled to the crash site to say goodbye to the deceased, China’s head of state and party leader Xi Jinping * expressed his sympathy. Aviation expert Laura Frommberg believes that none of the victims had a chance of surviving. She was also shocked by the alleged images of the crash, she says in an interview with Merkur.de*.
Boeing 737 “completely destroyed”
Immediately after the disaster, villagers reported that the machine was “completely destroyed.” A Chinese media outlet quoted an eyewitness as saying the plane “fell straight out of the sky.” Flight data show that flight MU5735 was flying at an altitude of 8869 meters when the plane suddenly left its cruising altitude and descended at a speed of up to 570 km/h. About 15 seconds before the crash, the Boeing gained some altitude before finally hitting the ground and bursting into flames.
On the day of the accident, the state-run newspaper Global Times quoted a Chinese expert who attributed the crash to “a very serious technical failure”. Laura Frommberg, editor-in-chief of the industry magazine aeroTELEGRAPH , says it is still too early to comment on the possible causes of the crash. First you have to wait and see what the evaluation of the flight recorders will show.
The first of the two black boxes, the voice recorder, was found shortly after the crash and later taken to Washington. The flight data recorder was discovered several days later*. “The crash happened very quickly. That’s why it’s questionable whether the voice recorder will do much,” says Frommberg. “The pilots may not have talked much or it may not be audible. Voice recorders can sometimes provide clues, but not always. That’s why the data from the flight recorder is also needed.”
Crashed Boeing 737: flight data recorder still under investigation
The latter is apparently still under investigation. At the beginning of April, employees from Boeing and the engine manufacturer CFM as well as experts from two US aviation authorities traveled to China. On Wednesday (April 20), the Chinese aviation authority CAAC wanted to submit a preliminary report on the accident to the International Civil Aviation Organization, which, however, is not to be published. “Either there are no very clear answers, or one is still considering how one would like to communicate certain answers,” says Frommberg.
According to experts, however, this report, which must be prepared within 30 days under international aviation law, should primarily contain safety recommendations – and still no answers to the question of how the accident happened. After the accident, China Eastern left all of its Boeing 737-800 aircraft on the ground for several weeks and only returned to service in mid-April. Only the machines from the same batch as the accident aircraft are further examined. For expert Frommberg, the temporary grounding was a precautionary measure, because the Boeing 737 is generally very safe. “In the US and Europe, the machines were not grounded,” she says.
The accident machine was six and a half years old at the time of the crash. The captain had flown Boeing 737 machines since early 2018, and his first officer was considered one of the most experienced pilots in the country. China’s air traffic control authority rejected rumors that one of the two was responsible for the accident.
China: Aviation generally very safe
The Boeing 737 crash was the worst plane crash in China in many years. The last time there was a crash was in 2010: 44 people died when a Henan Airlines Embraer E-190 crashed. “Chinese aviation itself is safe,” says Laura Frommberg. This can also be seen from the fact that no Chinese airline is on the EU’s black list of unsafe airlines.
For Boeing, however, the crash could have far-reaching consequences. The US aviation giant last announced the sale of aircraft to a Chinese airline in November 2017. No further orders have been received since then, according to CNN. And that despite the fact that, according to Boeing analyses, China could buy commercial aircraft worth 1.5 trillion dollars in the next 20 years – hundreds of machines that the up-and-coming Chinese manufacturers alone cannot produce and deliver.
Boeing: Difficult Chinese market
In particular, the crashes of two 737 Max* machines in 2018 and 2019 had damaged confidence in Boeing in China. Authorities there were among the first in the world to ground the 737 Max — and among the last to reopen it to traffic. However, no Chinese airline has yet put the machines back into operation. The trade conflict between Beijing and Washington* also weighs on Boeing. “We continue to have active discussions with our Chinese customers about their fleet planning needs and are urging leaders in both countries to resolve trade disputes,” Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun told investors last fall.
A few days after the crash of flight MU5735, the Global Times quoted analysts as saying the accident could change the Chinese airline industry forever. In the next few years, many travelers could therefore take the high-speed train instead of the plane. At the moment, however, it is above all the corona lockdowns in cities like Shanghai* that are causing problems for the airlines. Countless flights have to be cancelled. (sh) * Merkur.de is an offer from IPPEN.MEDIA.