By Martin Quin Pollard
WUZHOU, China (Reuters) – Chinese investigators have begun examining the cockpit voice recorder of a China Eastern Airlines plane that crashed into a mountainside with 132 people on board as recovery teams searched fields on Thursday for muddy a second black box.
Recording material from the first black box, found on Wednesday, appears to have survived the impact of Monday’s crash relatively well, an official with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said.
The cockpit voice recorder would provide investigators with details of communications between the flight’s three pilots, which is one more than is normally required aboard a Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
The search for the flight data recorder continued.
Debris from the airliner, including engine blades, horizontal tail stabilizers and other wing debris, was concentrated 30 meters from the main impact point, which was 20 meters deep.
A 1.3-meter-long fragment suspected of coming from the plane was found about 10 kilometers away, prompting a significant expansion of the search area, authorities said at a news conference.
No survivors have been found, and experts have said it was almost impossible for anyone to survive such an impact.
Flight MU5735 was en route from the southwestern city of Kunming to Guangzhou on the coast when the plane suddenly dropped from cruising altitude at about the time it should have started its descent to its destination.
The investigation is led by China, but the United States was invited to participate because the plane was designed and manufactured there.
However, the US National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that it had not determined whether investigators would travel to China due to strict visa and quarantine requirements, and Chinese officials declined to say whether they would be invited. or when to NTSB officials.
“Our work priority remains search and rescue and, at the same time, carry out the work of collecting and fixing evidence at the initial stage of the accident investigation,” said Zhu Tao, head of air safety at the CAAC.
“However, when we enter the accident investigation stage, we will invite relevant parties to participate in the accident investigation in accordance with relevant regulations,” it said.
According to the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, the plane appeared to briefly come out of its dive, before diving back down a forested slope in the Guangxi mountainous region.
Authorities said the pilots did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers during the rapid descent.
It was too early to determine the cause of the accident, which experts say is usually the result of a combination of factors.
“The difficulty now is that we are eager to search for survivors as soon as possible, but our job requires us to search carefully and slowly,” Huang Shangwu, deputy director of the Guangxi Fire Brigade Combat Training Office, told the site. .
Search teams used thermal imaging cameras and life detection devices, as well as drones.
“The search area is really big, plus the two days of rain make the road very slippery,” said Zhou, among more than 1,600 people involved in search operations on Thursday.
The captain of the flight had 6,709 hours of flight experience, while the first and second officers had 31,769 hours and 556 hours, respectively, a China Eastern official said Wednesday. A co-pilot was an observer to gain experience, the airline said, without disclosing the names of the pilots.
Phoenix Weekly magazine quoted an aviation expert who identified the captain as Yang Hongda, the son of a former captain from eastern China, and the first officer as Zhang Zhengping, a pilot with 40 years of experience who has mentored other pilots.
The Southern Weekly newspaper reported that Yang, 32, had a one-year-old daughter, while Zhang, 59, was a veteran pilot with an impeccable safety record and was expected to retire this year. Another media outlet, Jimu News, identified the second least experienced officer as 27-year-old Ni Gongtao.
China Eastern did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports.
(Additional reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Ryan Woo, Stella Qiu, Ella Cao and Xiaoyu Yin in Beijing and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Jamie Freed and Tony Munroe; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)