Second black box found at China Eastern Plane crash site

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Search teams at the site of a China Eastern Airlines Corp. crash in southern China have found the flight data recorder, the second of two black boxes that investigators hope will help determine the cause of the crash.

A team of firefighters from southern China’s Guangxi autonomous region, where the aircraft nosedived into a mountainside, found the second black box Sunday around 9:20 a.m., Zhu Tao, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said in a news conference. The box was roughly 130 feet away from where the plane had crashed, buried several feet underground, he said.

Rescuers had located the first black box, the cockpit voice recorder, on Wednesday, but authorities said they hadn’t been able to detect the positioning signal of the second box and speculated its signal transmitter may have been damaged in the crash.

The discovery of the black boxes—both of which are actually painted orange to make them easier to spot—is a critical moment in the aftermath of a plane crash, as they store vital information and typically provide accident investigators the best information about what caused a plane to go down.

The flight-data recorder tracks more than 1,000 flight details, such as airspeed and altitude, the status of smoke alarms and the position of the wing flaps. Parts of the recorder had been seriously damaged, but the data storage compartment appeared relatively intact, Mr. Zhu said, adding that the box has been sent to a professional laboratory for analysis.

Both boxes were found less than a week after the March 21 accident involving a Boeing 737. All 132 people on board have been confirmed dead, the Chinese civil aviation regulator said Saturday, making it China’s deadliest plane crash since 1994.

The force of the impact scattered debris over a wide area. According to Zheng Xi, one of the leaders of Guangxi’s search and rescue team, about 340 firefighters had been sent to search the site early Sunday morning. One of the plane’s emergency locator transmitters, which was installed close to the flight data recorder, had been unearthed nearby before Sunday’s find, according to state broadcaster China Central Television.

“After turning over tree roots, they found a cylindrical metal object largely covered with mud, with just a bit of its orange exterior showing,” Mr. Zheng told reporters at the same conference. After clearing the soil from around the object, the search team caught sight of some English wording, and civil aviation experts later verified it was the second black box, Mr. Zheng said.

State television footage showed people in hazmat suits and black knee-high rubber boots clambering on a steep slope of torn-up red soil where the box was discovered.

The second black box arrived late afternoon in Beijing, according to CCTV. Authorities plan to use the contents of both black boxes together with air-traffic control data and the evidence they collected on-site to conduct an investigation into the incident, the Chinese officials said at Sunday’s news briefing.

Liu Xiaodong, a spokesman for China Eastern Airlines, said Sunday that the airline had begun discussions with the families of MU5735 passengers about compensation and had set up a full-time team to assist.

Aviation experts have been puzzled by the crash, which involved one of the fastest descents of a commercial aviation jetliner in history. The flight had taken off from Kunming airport in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan and had flown for more than an hour without any issue, before nosediving and plunging almost 22,000 feet in 72 seconds.

A senior official with the Shanghai-based airline said earlier this week that the plane was in good working order and the crew was qualified and in good health at the time of departure. China’s aviation regulator is leading the investigation, and the National Transportation Safety Board has appointed a senior air-safety investigator as a U.S. representative, the NTSB has said.

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