New details emerged on Tuesday about the China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 that was caught on camera crashing vertically into a mountain range earlier this week, which left no known survivors.
“The Boeing 737-800 was knifing through the air at more than 640 miles (966 kilometers) per hour, and at times may have exceeded 700 mph,” Bloomberg News reported. “Sound travels at 761 mph at sea level but slows with altitude as air temperature goes down and is about 663 mph at 35,000 feet.”
Flightradar24 released data from the flight that showed the aircraft was cruising at just over 29,000 feet when it then plunged more than 20,000 feet in less than a minute before later slamming into the mountains of southern China.
The Air Current noted that the fact that Flightradar24 was able to collect data from the flight as it rapidly plunged toward the ground means “the aircraft had electrical power and was able to broadcast tracking telemetry.”
The South China Morning Post, which is owned by the Chinese Alibaba Group, reported that the flight data “depicted a battle for control of China Eastern Airlines flight” as there appears to have been a temporary recovery in altitude followed by a second nosedive that took the plane straight into the ground.
“It was an exceedingly high-energy crash,” said Bob Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co. consultancy. “It looks like it literally evaporated into a crater. Do the flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder or quick access recorder — do any survive? I just don’t know the answer.”
The New York Times reported that investigators were still trying to locate the plane’s black boxes, which record flight data and voice recorders.
“The aircraft was severely damaged in this accident, and the investigation is very difficult,” Zhu Tao, the director of aviation safety at the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said. “With the information currently available, it is still impossible to make a clear judgment on the cause of the accident.”
The Times added:
Mr. Zhu confirmed a few details about the trajectory of the plane that had emerged in flight data shared by Flightradar24, a tracking platform, while also describing for the first time how air traffic controllers had tried to contact the plane when they noticed something amiss.
The plane been cruising at about 29,000 feet around 2:17 p.m. on Monday, he said, but a few minutes later, air traffic controllers had noticed that the plane had suddenly lost altitude. He said the controllers immediately called the plane crew, but did not receive a reply after several attempts. By 2:23 p.m., the plane’s radar signal disappeared, he said, and it had crashed.
“It really catches your eye when you see how rapidly the aircraft went from this horizontal flight,” Mike Daniel, a former Federal Aviation Administration accident investigator, said. “On any given investigation, you can’t rule out foul play at the very beginning,” he said. “It was so abrupt that everything needs to be looked at.”
Australian aviation expert Neil Hansford said that he does not believe that the plane crashed due to any kind of technical issue.
“Even with total loss of power, no aircraft plummets to the ground from 20,000 feet in two minutes with an event at 8,000 feet,” Hansford said. “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.”
“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 continued. “Likely scenarios include pilot suicide, aircraft mid-air collision with military aircraft (they don’t have transponders like civil aircraft), [flight MU5735] was struck by a missile or an on-board explosion. My tipping is a human-induced event or bought down by rogue missile. Debris looks like MH117 over Ukraine, and the Chinese are providing too much information this time which is uncharacteristic.”