Wing and engine parts found in China Eastern crash as hunt for 2nd black box continues

Search workers holding shovels in rainy weather
Search workers head to the crash site of a China Eastern jetliner that nosedived into a mountainside Monday with 132 people onboard.
(Ng Han Guan / Associated Press)

Hundreds of searchers wearing rubber boots and full rain gear headed into muddy, forested hills in southern China on Thursday to try to find the second black box from a China Eastern passenger jet that crashed in southern China with 132 people onboard earlier this week.

No survivors have been found since the China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 nosedived into a mountainous area Monday during a domestic flight, but authorities say they still are looking. Some human remains and engine parts were found, as well as items from the cockpit and some belongings of passengers, officials said. State TV showed searchers on a denuded slope trying to dislodge a white wing section with the airline’s red-and-blue logo.

One of the black boxes, believed to be the cockpit voice recorder, was found Wednesday. Its outer casing was damaged, but the orange cylinder was relatively intact, investigators said.


Shanghai-based China Eastern, one of China’s four major airlines, said Thursday that it and its subsidiaries have grounded a total of 223 Boeing 737-800 aircraft while they investigate possible safety hazards.

China Eastern said earlier that the grounding was a precaution, not a sign of anything wrong, and that the crashed plane had been in good condition and the flight crew experienced and in good health.

The plane was flying from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in China’s mountainous southwest, to Guangzhou, a major city and export manufacturing hub in the southeast. Authorities say there were no foreign passengers aboard.

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Investigators have said it is too early to discuss possible causes. An air-traffic controller tried to contact the pilots several times after seeing the plane’s altitude drop sharply but got no reply, officials have said.

The government has yet to release the pilots’ names, but news reports identified the captain as Yang Hongda. The co-pilot, according to news reports, was Zhang Zheng, a veteran with 32,000 hours of flying time in a 30-year career.

An unidentified former colleague of Zhang’s cited by the online Paper news outlet said he was a mentor to young pilots, had a “sunny disposition” and captained the air academy’s basketball team.


A second co-pilot, Ni Gongtao, was flying with them to gain experience, according to news reports.

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On Thursday, pumps were being used to drain a pit at the center of the crash site as light rain hampered work for a second day.

“The rainstorm made the job harder,” Zheng Xi, fire chief of Guangxi province, said at a news conference. Zheng said muddy roads were so hard to get through that some searchers walked to the site carrying tools and other equipment.

More than 300 searchers were taking part, said Huang Shangwu, a deputy fire chief.

“The water pumping yesterday greatly contributed to the finding of the black box,” Huang told reporters at a command center inside a wide restricted zone that has been blocked off by authorities.

The Boeing 737-800 was cruising at 29,000 feet when it suddenly nosedived and crashed, setting off a fire in the surrounding forest that could be seen in NASA satellite images.

The government has sealed off a large area around the crash site and tried to control information about the disaster.

Foreign media were escorted into the zone for the first time Thursday. Parked police and other vehicles lined the highway into the area, and the journalists were driven down small puddled roads covered in red-brown mud to the command center.

When they passed a woman in tears who was being walked away, security officials used open umbrellas to try to block the journalists from filming from their vehicles.

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Searchers have been using hand tools, metal detectors, drones and sniffer dogs to comb the heavily forested and steep slopes. Wallets, identity and bank cards and human remains have been found.

Recovering the so-called black boxes — which are usually painted orange for visibility — is considered key to figuring out what caused the crash.


Cockpit voice recorders can capture voices, audio alerts and background sounds from the engine or even switches being moved. The flight data recorder stores information about the plane’s speed, altitude and direction up or down, as well as pilot actions and the performance of important systems.