Search parties have found the second of two black boxes from a passenger plane that crashed to earth in southern China, killing 132 people, officials said on Sunday, nearly a week after the disaster.
Flight recorders, which collect vital information, including pilot communications and data on the engines and aircraft performance, could help explain why China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 dropped more than 20,000 feet in just over a minute. before falling onto a hill in the US region of Guangxi. Chinese authorities on Saturday confirmed what was almost certain: that none of the people on board the Boeing 737 survived.
Searchers have been digging in the muddy earth looking for evidence, and a team dug up the second recorder from the hillside after spotting a telltale orange flash in its casing, said Zheng Xi, a fire official who was helping to oversee the search helped a message conference.
“The other parts of the recorder were badly damaged, but the exterior of the data storage unit appears to be in good condition,” Zhu Tao, a flight safety officer with China’s Civil Aviation Administration, said at the press conference.
Aviation officials and experts have warned that both recorders could be severely damaged by the crash, making their data difficult to retrieve. Search parties are also attempting to retrieve debris from the plane, which could take weeks if not more.
Over the past few days, workers have been recovering parts of the plane’s engines, wings and main landing gear, as well as other debris. Officials said they had determined the plane’s main point of impact and that most of the debris was concentrated within a 30 meter radius and about 20 meters deep underground. But search teams also found a four-foot piece of debris, likely from the plane, more than six miles from the main crash site.
Salvaging structural parts could help investigators use metallurgical analysis to determine how the plane broke up, Mike Daniel, an industry consultant and former Federal Aviation Administration accident investigator, said in an interview. “You should put as many pieces together as possible to try to reconstruct the plane,” he said, although he conceded that a full reconstruction would be “nearly impossible” given the force with which the plane hit the ground.
Search teams on Wednesday found what officials say was likely the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and sent it to Beijing for analysis. The other flight recorder, presumably the one whose recovery was reported on Sunday, used to store information about the aircraft’s movement, speed, altitude and mechanical performance.
For days, hundreds of searchers in the remote hills of Guangxi’s Teng County seemed not to have given up on finding survivors, even though the chances of finding anyone alive seemed slim. Heavy rains have inundated the area and increased the risk of mudslides. Workers used pumps to drain the softened earth.
Live television footage from the area on Friday showed workers wearing medical masks and white personal protective suits as they combed the steep, muddy terrain.
On Friday, several Chinese media falsely reported that searchers found the second flight recorder. Xinhua, the official news agency, later said that was not true.
The Chinese government views disasters like the Flight 5735 crash as potential sources of public anger at officials and has acted quickly to control communications surrounding the crash. State media reports have highlighted concerns expressed by China’s top leaders and the rapid mobilization of hundreds of firefighters, paramilitary forces and other workers in the search.
In previous disasters, such as a high-speed rail accident in 2011, survivors and victims’ families protested against the government, demanding information and reparations. This time, however, the families of those who were on the flight were wrapped up in official security and regulatory agencies and largely kept away from reporters.
Hundreds of searchers at the crash site stood in silence as horns blared for three minutes on Sunday afternoon as part of a traditional Chinese ceremony to mourn six days after someone died.
Additional research by Liu Yi.
Liu Yi, Joy dong, Claire Fu and Li you contributed research.