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China widens search for accidents as second black box is dodged

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By Martin Quin Pollard

WUZHOU, China (Reuters) – Recovery teams expanded the search area for the China Eastern Airlines crash on Friday, as the second of the plane’s two black boxes eluded search and rescue workers for a fourth day.

Flight MU5735 was en route from the southwestern city of Kunming to Guangzhou on the coast on Monday when the Boeing 737-800 plummeted from cruising altitude at about the time it should have started its descent to its destination.

Human remains and personal belongings of all 132 people on board have been found, but there are no survivors, and debris from the crash was scattered across a wide area of ​​heavily forested hillsides in China’s Guangxi region.

It was the first major air disaster in China in a dozen years and, although the cause of the incident is unknown, it prompted the government to tighten security controls in aviation and other industries.

“The search area has now been expanded to 200,000 square meters,” Lao Gaojin, a local government official, told a news conference, adding that 2,248 local residents had joined the search and rescue on Friday.

The other black box, the cockpit voice recorder, was found on Wednesday and sent to Beijing for expert examination.

It could take 10 to 15 days to reach a preliminary analysis, and longer before a final conclusion can be presented in a report, according to Chinese state media.

“Currently, we cannot determine the exact time required for data download and analysis of the already recovered black box,” said Mao Yanfeng, an official with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), adding that the exterior of the device it had been spoiled.

The accident investigation is being led by China, but the United States was invited to participate because the Boeing 737-800 was designed and manufactured there.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Wednesday that Chinese authorities had invited the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to participate in the investigation. , adding that he was very encouraged by the invitation to be in China.

However, the NTSB later said it had not yet determined whether investigators would travel to China in light of visa and quarantine requirements.

It would be important for the NTSB to be able to participate in the download of the cockpit voice and data recorders, said Anthony Brickhouse, an aviation safety expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

“Just for the sake of openness, any time you download, it’s important to have other parties in the room,” he said.

DISTRACTED

Since then, more than 200 distraught family members of the 132 people aboard the doomed flight have visited the crash site.

“Rescue teams have so far found human remains, collected 18 fingerprint samples and 101 pieces of personal belongings from passengers,” Lao said.

More than 230 experts have also been taking DNA samples from relatives at the crash site as well as from the crash site, he said.

Debris from the airliner, including engine blades, horizontal tail stabilizers and other wing debris, was concentrated 30 meters (90 feet) from the main impact point, which was 20 meters (60 feet) wide. depth.

A 1.3-meter-long fragment suspected of coming from the plane was found about 10 km (six miles) away, causing a significant expansion of the search area.

According to flight tracking website FlightRadar24, the plane appeared to briefly come out of its dive, before sinking again.

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

(Additional reporting by Ryan Woo and Stella Qiu in Beijing, and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Michael Perry and Philippa Fletcher)


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