WUZHOU—A Chinese aviation official said Wednesday that one of the two “black box” recorders had been found in severely damaged condition, two days after a China Eastern flight crashed in southern China with 132 people on board.
The device is so damaged that investigators were not able to tell whether it is the flight data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder, said Mao Yanfeng, the director of the accident investigation division of the Civil Aviation Authority of China.
Recovering the so-called black boxes—they are usually painted orange for visibility—is considered key to figuring out what caused the crash. It wasn’t clear if the damage to the recovered one would limit its usefulness.
The search for clues into why a Chinese commercial jetliner dove suddenly and crashed into a mountain in southern China had been suspended earlier Wednesday as rain slickened the debris field and filled the red-dirt gash formed by the plane’s fiery impact.
The black box was found in the afternoon. The flight data recorder captures information about the plane’s airspeed, altitude, direction up or down, pilot actions, and performance of all key systems. The cockpit voice recorder captures sounds including conversations and background engine noise during the flight.
Relatives of passengers began arriving Wednesday at the gate to the village just outside the crash zone, where they, along with reporters on the scene, were stopped by police and officials who used opened umbrellas to block the view beyond.
One woman was overheard saying her husband, the father of their two children, had been on board the flight.
“I’m just going in there to take a look. Am I breaking the law?” she said. The woman and a companion were then escorted away and reporters told to stop filming.
Another man, who gave just his surname, Ding, said his sister-in-law had been on the plane. He said he hoped to visit the site but had been told little by the authorities.
“We’re just coming here to have a look,” said Ding, adding, “My heart sank all of a sudden,” upon hearing about the crash. He too was escorted away.
China Eastern Flight 5735 was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew from Kunming in Yunnan province to Guangzhou, an industrial center on China’s southeastern coast, when it crashed Monday afternoon outside the city of Wuzhou in the Guangxi region.
Investigators say it is too early to speculate on the cause. The plane went into an unexplained dive an hour after departure and stopped transmitting data 96 seconds into the fall.
“As of now, the rescue has yet to find survivors,” Zhu Tao, director of the Office of Aviation Safety at the Civil Aviation Authority of China, said at a Tuesday evening news conference.
“The public security department has taken control of the site,” Zhu added.
China Eastern is headquartered in Shanghai and is one of China’s three largest carriers with more than 600 planes, including 109 Boeing 737-800s. China’s Transport Ministry said China Eastern has grounded all of its 737-800s, a move that could further disrupt domestic air travel already curtailed because of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in China since the initial peak in early 2020.
The Boeing 737-800 has been flying since 1998 and has a well-established safety record. It is an earlier model than the 737 Max, which was grounded worldwide for nearly two years after deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019.