A Boeing 737-800 that plunged vertically into a mountain range in China earlier this year was intentionally crashed by someone in the cockpit, U.S. officials say.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that flight data from the plane’s black box “indicates someone in the cockpit intentionally crashed” the China Eastern Airlines plane back in May.
A person familiar with the assessment from U.S. officials said that “the plane did what it was told to do by someone in the cockpit.”
The assessment from U.S. officials also relies on the fact that Chinese authorities have not indicated that there were any mechanical or technical issues with the plane that could have contributed to the crash.
“Neither Boeing Co. nor air-safety regulators have been working on any service bulletins or safety directives stemming from the crash,” the report added. “Such messages would be used if authorities believed there was a need to alert airlines and pilots to problems the flight crew encountered in the accident or detail needed fixes to the aircraft.”
While officials have turned their focus to the actions of the pilots, the report cautioned that officials have left open the possibility that someone broke into the cockpit and crashed the plane.
The plane had been cruising at just over 29,000 feet on March 21st when it then plunged more than 20,000 feet in under a minute before later slamming into the ground. All 132 people on board the flight were killed in the crash.
A Boeing 737 has crashed in China with 132 people on board.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) March 21, 2022
The report did not give any indication as to whether investigators were looking at the incident as potential act of terrorism or a suicidal individual.
The South China Morning Post, which is owned by the Chinese Alibaba Group, reported back in March that the flight data “depicted a battle for control of China Eastern Airlines flight” as the plane had temporarily recovered altitude followed by a second nosedive that took the plane straight into the ground.
Australian aviation expert Neil Hansford noted at the time that even if the plane had suffered a total loss of power that “no aircraft plummets to the ground from 20,000 feet in two minutes with an event at 8,000 feet.”
“I think aircraft technical failure can be ruled out and it will be an external event … I would get on a Boeing 737-800 in an instant with an Australian carrier, so my suggestion would be it won’t be Boeing or aircraft technical related,” he said. “It is very unlikely the pilot passed out as the non-flying pilot would have been able to very safely take over the flying and land the aircraft.”
He said that pilot suicide was among the leading likely causes of the crash.
U.K. aviation expert Sally Gethin said that she believed that “there had already been a catastrophic incident on board for it to be able to drop so dramatically in that way.”
This report has been updated to include additional information.