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Flight data shows China Eastern jet deliberately crashed — report

Data shows someone sent jet into nosedive, killing all 132 aboard, WSJ reports, shedding light on crash even as China keeps tight grip on information about disaster

In this photo taken by mobile phone released by Xinhua News Agency, a piece of wreckage of the China Eastern's flight MU5735 is seen after it crashed on the mountain in Tengxian County, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on March 21, 2022. (Xinhua via AP)
In this photo taken by mobile phone released by Xinhua News Agency, a piece of wreckage of the China Eastern's flight MU5735 is seen after it crashed on the mountain in Tengxian County, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on March 21, 2022. (Xinhua via AP)

WASHINGTON — US investigators believe someone on board deliberately crashed a China Eastern flight in March, in what was China’s deadliest air disaster in decades, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

China Eastern flight MU5375 was travelling from Kunming to Guangzhou on March 21 when it inexplicably plunged from an altitude of 29,000 feet into a mountainside, killing all 132 people on board.

So-called black box flight data recorders recovered from the site were sent to the United States for analysis.

That data shows that someone — possibly a pilot or someone who had forced their way into the cockpit — input orders to send the Boeing 737-800 into a nosedive, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cited people familiar with the probe.

“The plane did what it was told to do by someone in the cockpit,” the Journal quoted “a person who is familiar with American officials’ preliminary assessment” as saying.

US officials believe their conclusion is backed up by the fact that Chinese investigators have so far not indicated any problems with the aircraft or flight controls that could have caused the crash and would need to be addressed in future flights, the newspaper said.

Both the US National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing declined to comment on the investigation to AFP Tuesday.

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, debris is seen at the site of a plane crash in Tengxian County in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Tuesday, March 22, 2022. (Zhou Hua/Xinhua via AP)

According to a report from Boeing, investigators found no evidence of “anything abnormal,” China’s Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC) said in April.

In a statement, the CAAC said staff had met safety requirements before takeoff, the plane was not carrying dangerous goods and did not appear to have run into inclement weather, though the agency said a full investigation could take years.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, China’s ruling Communist Party moved quickly to control information, revving up its censorship machine as media outlets and local residents raced to the crash site.

It has maintained its tight grip over the narrative, with the preliminary probe leaving key questions unanswered.

Illustrative: Residents watch as a China Eastern passenger jet prepares to take off on a test flight from the new Beijing Daxing International Airport on May 13, 2019. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

After the fatal descent near the southern city of Wuzhou, authorities swiftly cordoned off a huge area and China’s internet regulator announced it had scrubbed vast amounts of “illegal information” on the crash from China’s tightly controlled web.

A social media hashtag bearing the plane’s flight number appeared to be censored.

The crash was China’s deadliest in around 30 years and dented the country’s otherwise enviable flight safety record.

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