On March 21, while en route from Kunming to Guangzhou, a China Eastern Airlines flight number MU5735 suddenly nose-dived at cruising altitude and crashed into a hillside close to Wuzhou City, Guangxi province in southern China. The accident killed all 123 passengers and nine crew members on board. This is the worst air accident in China in almost 3 decades.
On April 20, China issued a preliminary report on the crash of the China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800.
According to the report, everything about the flight on that day seems normal.
The aircraft had been properly maintained. The investigation team could not find any navigation or monitoring instruments failure during the flight.
The weather was clear during the day, and the aircraft was not carrying any dangerous cargo. And all crew members were qualified.
In this regard, senior American pilot Gao Fei told Chinese-language media Da Ji Yuan on April 28 that the report did not analysis of the cause of the accident. But based on Flightradar24 data analysis, he pointed out that the aircraft suddenly dived and briefly leveled off to climb. This indicated that the aircraft might have been in a controllable state. Most likely that a pilot was at the controls.
Gao Fei is a senior pilot with 26 years of experience. He has flown in China and has a lot of experience flying Boeing 737-800 – the type of crashed plane.
First, he said that after China’s official radar lost contact with the MU5735, the aircraft tracking device of Flightradar24 continued to receive signals from the aircraft. This shows that the tracking devices on the flight had not been turned off and were still operating normally. The aircraft’s transponder was working.
That means the pilot neither called for help nor answered calls from the ground.
Senior pilot Gao Fei said that, as long as the pilots can still control the plane, they can send a distress signal by pressing the launch button. However, all three pilots did not send any distress signal and did not respond to the ground call.
Gao Fei reasoned that they might have done it on purpose or out of panic. However, pilots are trained to a certain extent. So it’s hard to believe that they can’t remember to call for help in a critical moment. And when they hear a call from the ground, they can’t even think of an answer.
No matter what the reason is, it’s tough to explain.
Secondly, Gao Fei noted that a Boeing 737-800 generally has 6 to 7 crew members. Still, the official report says that the crew of MU5735 has nine people. So why are there 2 to 3 more people in this case?
In addition, Gao Fei asks why the Chinese authority hasn’t released the complete list of people on board MU5735. Passenger and crew lists are usually transparent and easy to access in the international community.
Gao Fei said that China is an authoritarian state. It will not announce the list of people on board. Either it has any special purpose or fears that the public will know something.
Human factors deserve attention
From the mentioned standpoints, Gao Fei said that after ruling out several factors causing the accidents, the human causes would attract much attention.
Beijing’s preliminary report said that the flight crew on duty, the cabin crew, and the maintenance crew all meet the requirements.
At this point, Gao Fei said they needed to investigate the crew and other personnel. Because there are many ways to measure qualifications, but it’s a different thing when it comes to one’s state of mind. It’s like one good driver will not drive safe when he’s drunk.
Gao Fei also noted that the report did not give a detailed answer to the basic situation of each crew member.
According to public accounts, co-pilot Zhang Zhengping, who had 40 years of flying experience, was a bureau inspector. That’s the highest professional title in the aviation field. He is also an instructor captain, standing among a group of five-star captains for China Eastern Airlines. In 2011, the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration awarded him the title of meritorious pilot. However, in many reports, Chinese officials only mentioned him as a co-pilot after the tragedy.
He had flown four different aircraft types and had more than 30,000 hours of safe flight time. Meanwhile, his colleague on Flight MU5735, captain Yang Hongda was 32 years old and had a little more than 6,700 hours of flight time.
So, Zhang Zhengping drew much attention after the crash. The public questioned why Zhang Zhengping, who trained the flight’s captain Yang Hongda, was downgraded to the co-pilot’s seat.
The Chinese officials have also turned down the rumor saying captain Zhang attempted suicide. However, Gao Fei said they did not provide any proofs to support their stance. He thought that’s not how the investigation should be.
Gao Fei said that the investigation team likely already has the basic information about the crew because it does not need the black box to get this information. It might be that Beijing does not want to let the public know about them.