Chinese officials recently released the details of an investigation into the June 3 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft crash in Anhui Province, which killed all 40 people on board, according to the Asia Times. The apparent causes were icy wings, an overloaded aircraft, and mismanagement by the military.
At about 1:30pm on June 3, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft took off from Feidong Air Force airport with 40 passengers and some equipment. At the time of the crash the aircraft had been in the air for over two hours and had passed several icy areas. Many passengers were not wearing seat belts and when the aircraft lost balance, the passengers fell, causing the aircraft to tilt, spin, and finally lose control at 8,000 meters.
The crash shocked high ranking officials and Hu Jintao, leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), personally requested the investigation. Three months later, the Chinese reported for the very first time that the crash was caused by ice build up on the wings after flying through several icy regions.
The Central Military Commission reported the penalties to related personnel. Major General Jiang Jianzeng, deputy commander of the Nanjing Military Area Command, was given a serious demerit. Wang Wei, political commissar of the airforce of the Nanjing Military Area Command, and Yue Liu'an, deputy director of the PLA Airforce Armament Department, were both given standard demerits. Guo Chunguang, deputy chief of staff of the airforce of the Nanjing Military Area Command, was demoted. Zhang Guangjian, an officer with the Nanjing command's airforce, was dismissed. Another six officers were given demerits or warnings.
The harsh penalties were reportedly due to a series of cover-ups in the Nanjing Military Area after the accident. The number of reported deaths was changed from 40 to 29 (the aircraft's maximum limit) and the black box recording was erased for one minute and three seconds. The plane crash accident has evolved into a more serious political issue and Zhang Guangjian, the dismissed airforce officer, is being further investigated.
However, the report fails to mention the safety issues. The investigation showed that many of the passengers were not wearing seat belts. When the aircraft lost balance due to the icy wing, many passengers were thrown out of their seats and fell to the lower end of the aircraft which unbalanced it even more. The aircraft started rolling and dropped from 8,000 meters to 1,000 meters before the pilot lost total control. The aircraft crashed into mountains nearby the Baidian Township of Guangde County in eastern Anhui province.
This AEW aircraft was redesigned from a Chinese made “Transportation No. 8” double-engine propeller-driven transport aircraft. It is the latest small AEW aircraft of “Air Force 2000” equipped with beam plate radar antenna. During battle, a group of three AEW aircrafts will form a commanding system with ground communication. This is relatively mature AEW technology developed by the Chinese Air Force.
Before the crash, “Air force 2000” was reported to have passed all related tests and was ready for production, which is believed to be why the Air Force commander failed to adhere to the aircraft's passenger limit of 29, and the aircraft was overloaded by 11 extra passengers. No explanation was given regarding the 11 passengers, but the commander of the regiment, Zhang Guangjian, received the harshest penalty.
Zhang Guangjian, a star pilot in the Air Force, had been promoted to commander of this newly formed “new aircraft group” in September 2004, from the Guangzhou Region Air Force Transportation Troop.