TENG COUNTY, GUANGXI - Aviation authorities on Wednesday (March 23) said they found the audio recorder - one of two in-flight black boxes - from the crashed China Eastern Airlines flight as well as human remains.
“The black box has since been sent to be decrypted in Beijing… it will take some time, longer if there is damage inside,” said Mr Zhu Tao, director of the aviation safety office at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
“After it is decrypted, it will provide valuable information to the investigation,” he told journalists at a late night press briefing, the second of the day.
The in-flight audio recorder had been so badly damaged that investigators needed several hours to verify whether it was used to record sound or data, officials said earlier.
The black boxes are meant to be crash proof and virtually indestructible, said Mr Mao Yanfeng, head of the Civil Aviation Accident Investigation Centre, adding that the search for the second box is still underway.
The two black boxes could help investigators piece together why flight MU5735 plunged into a mountainous area in Guangxi autonomous region with 132 people on board on Monday, while en route from Kunming to Guangzhou.
Torrential rain had halted the search for victims. Rain water was filling the depression in the soft soil caused by the impact of the crash, and firefighters had to bring in pumps to drain the water in the heavily forested and difficult terrain, said Mr Zheng Xi, head of the Guangxi Fire and Rescue Corps.
“When scouring the area… we also found plane debris and human remains,” he added.
Residents from Langnan Township told The Straits Times that they barely heard anything on Monday afternoon, around the time the plane went down.
The town is about 7km away from Molang Village, one of the villages that serve as an entryway into the crash site.
ST tried to enter the village but was turned away by police who cited Covid-19 restrictions and lack of permission.
Family members of the passengers who arrived in Wuzhou city have been moved to Lu Village in Teng County, where hotels were cleared out to accommodate them.
China Eastern official Shangguan Xuemin said that some 300 family members of 71 passengers have arrived in Guangxi and the airline is doing as much as it can to accommodate them, including allowing them near the crash site to offer prayers and offerings.
“Because the passengers were from many provinces and cities, the various governments have worked along with the (air crash) task force to provide help and assistance to the family members to travel here,” said the official.
Local authorities have set up a massive cordon around Lu Village to allow them privacy in a difficult time.
So far, the authorities have not confirmed the number of fatalities, nor want to be drawn into commenting where all on board have perished.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin wore a black tie. When asked about it, he said: “I do not have to tell you more.”
The comment was picked up by a nationalistic social media page, who derided the question as “rubbing salt on wounds”.
Investigators are still trying to piece together what happened in the jet’s final moments, and what caused its near vertical nosedive.
Flight tracking data showed that it was travelling at nearly the speed of sound before it suddenly plunged towards the ground.
Footage from state media showed rescuers picking through plane debris, along with personal belongings like a wallet, identity cards and power banks.
Aerial footage revealed large swathes of burnt out land around the area where the plane went down.
No foreign journalists have been allowed near the crash site.