BEIJING (REUTERS, NYTIMES, XINHUA) - Recovery crews on Sunday (March 27) found the second black box - the flight data recorder - from the wreckage of a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 jet that crashed into a mountainside in southern China, state media reported.
Flight MU5735, with 132 people onboard, was en route from the south-western city of Kunming to Guangzhou on the coast on Monday when it plummeted from cruising altitude at about the time when it should have started its landing descent.
The plane lost more than 20,000 ft in altitude in just over a minute before crashing into a hillside in the region of Guangxi.
There had been little hope of finding any survivors.
In a late night news conference on Saturday, officials announced that all of the people onboard, including nine crew members, have been confirmed dead.
The crash was the deadliest air disaster in mainland China since 1994, when a China Northwest Airlines flight from Xian to Guangzhou crashed, killing all 160 people on board.
The cause of the China Eastern crash remains unknown.
The other black box - the cockpit voice recorder - was found on Wednesday, and has been sent to Beijing for examination by experts.
The second black box was dug out of a slope at the crash site about 9.20am local time (9.20am in Singapore) in muddy conditions after rain in recent days, state media reported.
The device, which was recovered 40m from the point of impact of the crash and 1.5m beneath the surface of the slope, will be sent to Beijing for checks on Sunday, according to state media.
Aviation officials and experts have warned that both recorders could be badly damaged from the crash, which would make it more difficult to retrieve their data.
Search crews are also trying to recover debris from the plane, which could take weeks, if not longer.
In recent days, workers have recovered parts of the plane’s engines, wings and main landing gear, along with other pieces of wreckage.
Officials said they had determined the plane’s main impact point and that most of the debris was concentrated within a radius of 30m and a depth of about 20m under the ground.
But search teams also found a 1.2m-long piece of debris, likely from the plane, more than 10km from the main crash site.
At about 2pm, as sirens blared throughout a mountainous area in Teng County in south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, staff of the national emergency response headquarters for the accident and rescuers at the site stood solemnly in silence for three minutes in a tribute to the victims.
Assisted by local governments and work groups, the families of the victims also held mourning activities for their loved ones.
According to flight tracking website FlightRadar24, the plane briefly appeared to pull out of its nosedive before resuming its plunge to earth.
The authorities said the pilots did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers and nearby planes during the rapid descent.
The tragedy has shocked the nation and sent its social media into an overdrive as netizens parsed what little was known for clues.
China’s cyberspace watchdog has ordered Internet platforms and websites to clamp down on netizens spreading rumours and conspiracy theories, and any online mockery of the disaster.
Since the crash, the authorities have banned users and closed accounts to deal with more than 167,000 rumours, ranging from the deaths of seven directors of a company to divine prophesies of a plane crash by the end of March.
It was too soon to determine the cause of the crash, and crashes are usually the result of a combination of factors, experts say.
China is leading the crash investigation. The United States has also been invited to take part, as the Boeing 737-800 was designed and manufactured there.
The US National Transportation Safety Board said it was working with US and Chinese authorities to resolve visa and Covid-19 quarantine issues before participating.