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China Plane Crash Timeline: Is Boeing to blame for 737-800 crash?

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadMar 22, 2022 | 13:58

China Plane Crash Timeline: Is Boeing to blame for 737-800 crash?

It was a regular domestic flight in China. On March 20, 2022, the China Eastern Airlines flight – MU5735 – carried out a normal trip and landed safely in Guangzhou. On March 21, 2022, Monday, the same flight once again left for Guangzhou in Guangdong province from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. There were 123 passengers on board and nine crew members.

The plane took off without any glitch, it was at a comfortable cruising altitude – this is usually when most planes are put on autopilot mode. Everything was going fine.

Then, the plane was captured in videos vertically nose-diving and crashing into a mountain. Smoke billowed from the crash site, the plane disintegrated and the crash left a deep depression in the mountain. The plane went from a normal flight to a deadly crash all in less than 3 minutes. 

This is the fatal and tragic plane crash that China witnessed on Monday. It is the worst commercial air disaster in China since 2010. No survivors have been found from among 132 passengers and crew on board.

China's state-owned news agency, Xinhua, reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed shock over the plane crash and ordered swift action to identify the cause of the crash. He also ordered immediate search and rescue efforts and also a proper settlement to the next of kin of the victims. 

SO, WHAT HAPPENED?

Here is a timeline to explain what exactly happened after the plane took off and its final moments (according to Flightradar24):

1.10 pm local time (10.40 am India time): Flight MU5735 takes off from Kunming for Guangzhou on March 21, 2022.

17 minutes later, 1.27 pm local time (around 10.57 am India time): The flight reached a cruising altitude of 29,100 feet.

53 minutes later, 2.20 pm local time (11.50 am India time): The flight continued normally till this time.

2.20 pm local time: The flight began a rapid descent and reached 7,425 ft in just 2 minutes and 15 seconds. It briefly recovered to 8,600 ft before beginning its final fatal descent.

2.22 pm local time (11.52 am India time): The final recorded flight information showed the flight had reached an altitude of 3,225 ft.

The plane was then seen nose-diving into a mountain near the city of Wuzhou. China’s Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and the China Eastern Airline said that the plane lost contact over Wuzhou.

3.05 pm local time (12.35 pm India time): The flight was scheduled to land in Guangzhou, which it unfortunately never did.

WHAT CAUSED THE PLANE CRASH?

It still remains unknown what caused the plane to crash. According to experts, it is very rare for a plane to crash when it is in the cruise stage and even rarer when the plane first leaves the cruising stage. According to Boeing data from 2021, 28% of crashes occurred on the final approach, 26% on landing, 13% during the cruise phase, 3% on the descent, and none on the initial approach.

Final approach means when the plane approaches landing and is lined up with the runway. Descent is when the plane decreases altitude.

An investigation has been launched. Investigators will look into the following:

1. The flight’s black box

2. Possibility of a technical failure, mid-air collision and even deliberate action

3. If any part of the aircraft fell apart before the crash or if it was in one-piece when it hit the ground

4. Assess the videos of the crash

5. Assess the ‘stabiliser trim’ mechanism in the aircraft. According to the South China Morning Post, a stabiliser trim mechanism in a plane, located at the rear end of the aircraft, controls the pitch of the nose. Juan Browne, a Boeing 777 pilot and aviation vlogger told SCMP that it is likely that the ‘trim’ would be responsible for bringing the flight in the vertical position and keeping it there as seen in the horrifying videos of the flight.

THE PLANE MODEL

1. The plane that crashed belonged to state-owned China Eastern Airlines.

2. It was a Boeing 737-800 aircraft model. China Eastern Airlines’ fleet of 749 aircraft includes 291 from the Boeing 737 series, according to Reuters.  

3. The aircraft had been in service for the past 6 years.

4. The aircraft model is a predecessor to the 737 MAX models, which was involved in multiple crashes in 2018-19 due to its build.

5. The 737-800 aircraft has a seating capacity of 189 and is equipped with a CFM-56 engine.

6. There are thousands of aircraft models in service across the world, which were first produced in the late 1990s, with a strong safety record.

IS THE CRASH CONNECTED TO MALAYSIA AND ETHIOPIA CRASHES?

In 2018-19, two Boeing planes – one in Malaysia and the other in Ethiopia – crashed one after the other in a matter of months, killing all those on board. The aircraft was Boeing 737 MAX. The investigation found the cause of the crash in the fatal flaw of design in the aircraft – the MCAS system – and also the negligence of Boeing.

Following the crashes, the aircraft was grounded in several countries, started first by China. China was also the last country to get the model back in the air.

However, the Boeing 737-800 that recently crashed does not have the MCAS system.

Here in India, the aviation ministry has ordered an ‘enhanced surveillance’ of the Boeing 737 aircraft following the China crash.

Air disasters are rare in China, given its aviation safety record that is among the top three air travel markets in the world. The last commercial air crash in China with over five casualties was in 2010 when an Embraer E-190 flight by Henan Airlines crashed on approach due to low visibility, killing 44 of 96 people on board.

The China crash left a dent in Boeing’s shares as it fell 8% on Monday; its stock was down by $177.40 (Rs 8,940.30). 

Last updated: March 22, 2022 | 14:11
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