One black box found at crash site, transferred for decoding
Grounding all Boeing 737-800s an emergency response: airline
Published: Mar 23, 2022 10:58 PM Updated: Mar 23, 2022 10:48 PM
Photo: CFP

Searchers found one black box of the crashed MU5735 Photo: CFP

Rescuers recover one of the crashed plane's black boxes on March 23, 2022, which has been identified as the cockpit voice recorder. The flight data recorder is yet to be found. Photo: VCG

Rescuers recover one of the crashed plane's black boxes on March 23, 2022, which has been identified as the cockpit voice recorder. The flight data recorder is yet to be found. Photo: VCG

Searchers announced the recovery of one of the two black boxes, and human tissue debris from the crash site of China Eastern Airlines flight MU5735 on Wednesday night, three days after the Boeing 737-800 nosedived from cruising altitude and crashed into a forested hillside, raising hopes of providing evidence to find the cause of the crash.

As of 7 pm Wednesday, fire and rescue personnel have searched a total area of 46,000 square meters and found some aircraft wreckage and human tissue fragments, which have been transferred to the investigation working group, Zhu Tao, director of aviation safety office of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said at a press conference near the crash site in Wuzhou, South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on Wednesday night. 

One of the black boxes found on Wednesday has been identified as the cockpit voice recorder. The black box's recorder looks badly damaged from the outside, but its storage unit looks relatively intact, he added. 

It has been sent to a professional civil aviation agency in Beijing for decoding, Zhu noted. 

"The storage unit looks relatively intact, which shows that there is a high probability that the data is intact. The intact data storage will provide evidence for the accident investigation. It is also important for producing a credible accident analysis report," Wang Yanan, chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Reports from flight data trackers indicate the aircraft, with 132 passengers and crew on board, plunged for an altitude of thousands of meters at near the speed of sound.  

"The search teams are going all out in a meticulous search to find the other black box with professional tools, according to the press conference. 

Bloomberg reported that the plane was knifing through the air at more than 640 miles (966 kilometers) per hour, and at times may have exceeded 700 mph, citing data from Flightradar24, a website that tracks planes. 

"The preliminary data indicates it was near the speed of sound," said John Hansman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology astronautics and aeronautics professor who reviewed Bloomberg's calculation of the jet's speed. "It was coming down steep."

Video from CCTV shows that large excavators are digging the roads and soldiers are taking shovels to the areas where the plane debris is scattered. 

Before the accident, the area was covered with dense vegetation and now there are areas of blackened hillside or bare land with white spots. The preliminary estimate of the core area to be searched is more than 20,000 square meters. The crash site contains topography of varied heights, bringing even more difficulty for the search operation, according to CCTV.

At the press conference held in the afternoon, officials released more information regarding the crash. The weather on the route of MU5735 was suitable for flying and there was no hazardous weather when the plane crashed. The communication connection between the plane and the ground was normal from the plane's departure until its sudden fall in altitude.

A China Eastern Airlines representative said at the press conference that the plane, a Boeing 737-800, started service in June 2015. It had been maintained under strict standards of technical plans and in normal conditions. Before departure, the aircraft met the requirements for flying. 

The airline said grounding all planes of the same model does not mean this model has safety risks, but it is an emergency response when there has been a major safety incident and is a responsible move for travelers' safety. The company has enough transport capabilities and will not be affected by the suspension of some planes. 

Among the nine crew members on the flight was experienced co-pilot Zhang Zhengping. He has 40 years of flying experience and was about to retire this year at the age of 60. He has piloted Y-5, Soviet-made aircraft, An-24 aircraft, Boeing 737 and Boeing 767. His safe flight time has exceeded 30,000 hours.

The three pilots on board were all in good health and their flying certificates were within the validity period. Their families are harmonious, according to the press conference. 

Psychological trauma help 

"On March 21, 2022, a Boeing 737 passenger plane of China Eastern Airlines' Yunnan branch lost contact over Wuzhou during the Kunming-Guangzhou flight. The plane has now been confirmed to have crashed. There were 132 people on board, including 123 passengers and 9 crew members." 

This short text describes the sudden incident on the homepage of China Eastern's website, which has turned black and white to mourn the tragedy. The short introduction has plunged people across the country into grief. 

Some netizens said, "I cried when I saw the words 'lost contact' for I knew they will never arrive." Some commented that "If it wasn't for [making] a living, who would fly around during the epidemic?"

Beijing EAPs Consulting, a firm which provided a free psychological services hotline immediately after the crash, has answered 52 phone calls asking for assistance as of Wednesday 5 pm.

Jiang Tao, president of Beijing EAPs Consulting, told the Global Times that the team on standby includes six people in a 24/7 call center and more than 20 psychologists, including some volunteers with relevant certification. 

The phone calls are from families, friends and colleagues of people on board, who are in a difficult time. Some pilots and flight attendants called in because they feel unsafe and uncertain about their careers. There are also people who want to know how to comfort their acquaintances that had loved ones on the plane, Jiang said. 

Generally speaking, mental support and psychological services in the first 24 to 72 hours after a tragedy is crucial for people involved to recover from the tragedy and minimize the trauma, Jiang said, adding that psychologists in the team, in addition to giving immediate mental comfort, are giving advice on long-term recovery. 

The role a psychologist plays is not only mental support and guidance out of immediate depression, but also evaluating affected groups' mental status and give them more professional aid and treatment, if necessary, Huang Ying, a psychologist at Beijing Reading the Heart Psychological Health and Technology Company, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

It is natural that people who focus on the accident feel sad and depressed, which is called vicarious trauma, which results from empathetic engagement with people directly involved in a trauma, Huang explained, suggesting less focus on such information to overcome the situation. 

The whole of society should create an inclusive and supportive atmosphere for people directly impacted to accept and adjust themselves to the tragedy, and any activities hyping an emotional response should be avoided, Huang noted.