Report: China Eastern Boeing 737 Crash Was Intentional

Report: China Eastern Boeing 737 Crash Was Intentional

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In March 2022, a China Eastern Boeing 737 crashed while operating a domestic flight in China, killing all 132 people onboard. While we knew that the plane had entered a nosedive, we haven’t known much about what caused that… until now.

China Eastern Boeing 737 nosedive was intentional

The Wall Street Journal is reporting an update regarding the crash of China Eastern flight MU5735, which was scheduled to operate from Kunming (KMG) to Guangzhou (CAN). According to US officials familiar with the matter, data from the black box suggests that someone in the cockpit intentionally caused the plane to crash, by pushing the controls in a way that forced the plane into a nosedive.

Currently the focus is on the pilots, though it’s not yet known for sure if it was one of the pilots who made the inputs that caused the nosedive, or if there may have been someone else in the cockpit. I imagine those details will be figured out over time as well.

This news is simultaneously reassuring and terrifying:

  • On the one hand, the Boeing 737-800 is one of the safest planes in the sky, and it’s good to know that there didn’t seem to be a mechanical issue that caused the plane to crash
  • On the other hand, it’s terrifying to think that someone wouldn’t just take their own life, but also the lives of so many other people

Many airlines have eliminated the two-person cockpit rule

I’m not generally someone who is concerned too much with airline safety, since even the least safe airline is safer than most other forms of transportation (and in this case China Eastern actually has a very good safety record).

From a safety perspective, personally the thing that gives me the most pause when boarding a flight is the mental health of pilots. I tend to think that aviation is so safe because we learn from virtually every incident. Over the years there have been a countless number of planes that have been crashed intentionally, yet I feel like this is one area where not many lessons have been learned:

  • When planes are intentionally crashed by pilots, it’s almost always when there’s just one person in the cockpit (typically while the other pilot is stretching their legs or using the bathroom)
  • Following the Germanwings crash in 2015, many airlines around the globe introduced a policy whereby there always need to be at least two people in the cockpit; that’s to say that if a pilot needs to use the restroom and there are no relief pilots, a flight attendant will enter the cockpit
  • While many airlines introduced this policy at the time, so many airlines have quietly repealed it since then

For what it’s worth, this rule existed in the United States before the Germanwings crash. However, in many other parts of the world, such a policy was introduced in 2015, but then eliminated within a couple of years.

I’m not making these comments specific to this incident, because we don’t know what exactly happened. Rather I’m just sharing that pilot mental health is something that gives me pause, and I find it disappointing how many airlines have abolished the two person cockpit rule. I’m not sure if that was in any way a factor here, but I’m sure time will tell.

Bottom line

A China Eastern Boeing 737 tragically crashed in March 2022, killing all passengers onboard. Black box data now suggests that the crash may have been intentional, as it was inputs from the cockpit that made the plane enter a nosedive.

What do you make of this China Eastern Boeing 737 crash update?

(Featured image courtesy of Shadman Samee)

Conversations (43)
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  1. Matt Guest

    As a current pilot for a national carrier that does not have the two person rule and previously with another national carrier that did have the rule I don’t see that there is any difference. What is a flight attendant going to do if someone nosedives the plane? They have no flight training and if the plane is in a dive will have no chance to open the FD door. Supporting pilots mental health and...

    As a current pilot for a national carrier that does not have the two person rule and previously with another national carrier that did have the rule I don’t see that there is any difference. What is a flight attendant going to do if someone nosedives the plane? They have no flight training and if the plane is in a dive will have no chance to open the FD door. Supporting pilots mental health and well being is where the safety can be improved.
    RIP to those that sadly lost their lives in this tragedy.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      What is a flight attendant going to do if someone nosedives the plane?
      - Smack that person in the head.

      They have no flight training
      - They just need to get the other pilot back.

      But yes I do agree, supporting mental health is the best prevention.

    2. steve64 Guest

      The FA is in the cockpit to open the door in case the lone pilot becomes incapacitated for whatever reason.

    3. hoperox Guest

      I agree with you that safety can be improved by being alert to pilots’ mental health, or in this case, a change in a pilot’s mental status.

      We suspect the 58-year-old co-pilot of this China Eastern flight, the 59-year-old relief co-pilot in the EgyptAir disaster in 1999, and the 53-year-old pilot of Malaysia Flight 370 in 2014 suffered from the same extremely rare presentation of the most common type of dementia that strikes people...

      I agree with you that safety can be improved by being alert to pilots’ mental health, or in this case, a change in a pilot’s mental status.

      We suspect the 58-year-old co-pilot of this China Eastern flight, the 59-year-old relief co-pilot in the EgyptAir disaster in 1999, and the 53-year-old pilot of Malaysia Flight 370 in 2014 suffered from the same extremely rare presentation of the most common type of dementia that strikes people in middle age called frontotemporal dementia. The onset of the usual behavioral variant has been called “midlife crisis” by people trying to make sense of a sudden change of behavior in middle age.

      There are also language and motor variants, but it is this dangerous presentation in a tiny subset of people with the disorder that has to be flagged quickly.

      Subtle signs and symptoms usually start emerging 2 to 3 years before the “threshold event” so safety can indeed be improved once you know what to look for.

  2. Malc Member

    @Lucky -- Are you able to list the airlines that introduced and then rescinded the two-pilot rule?

    1. Stuart Guest

      I'm curious about this as well. As nowhere am I seeing where Ben is getting this info. He may be right, but often sitting near the cockpit on foreign airlines I notice things, and I have always seen a FA going into the cockpit when one comes out in the past few years.

      Further, as to this flight, this finding contradicts the fact that there were three pilots in the cockpit that day. One...

      I'm curious about this as well. As nowhere am I seeing where Ben is getting this info. He may be right, but often sitting near the cockpit on foreign airlines I notice things, and I have always seen a FA going into the cockpit when one comes out in the past few years.

      Further, as to this flight, this finding contradicts the fact that there were three pilots in the cockpit that day. One was there as a check or training pilot. So they both left the cockpit? It's possible I guess, but seems strange if it happened.

      Ben may be right in the end, but I have a lot of suspicions as to this report in WSJ. And to say the rule of airlines not requiring a FA in the cockpit when a pilot takes a stretch is strange. Who? Where? What's the source?

  3. bob Owen Guest

    Does any aircraft have a "butt in the seat sensor " in the cockpit?
    That would seem to be a valuable data point.

  4. Endre Guest

    I thought the flight computer (or whatever the correct term is) doesn’t allow such maneuvers anymore and would override the pilot’s input?

    1. Max Guest

      Only on advanced Airbus, not on vintage Boeings.

  5. Tony Guest

    Good to see the Chinese obfuscating the investigation with comments quite typical of the CCP.

  6. D3kingg Guest

    The CCP government would never confirm this.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      Unless they actually want the whole world to believe a suicidal pilot is responsible for this. No cover up, no spies, no assassination, no WMDs, nothing to look for, case closed.

    2. BuffaloShootingisUSGovFault Guest

      Lol the CPC care more about their people than you think. The country where the airplane was made first denied any fault and wrong doing about max. Still denied illegal invasion of Iraq based on UN sec council resolution. trying to arrest assange. China ain’t perfect but it never claimed to be unlike the US who always claimed to be star spangled awesome.
      We still have mass shootings this past weekend for crying out...

      Lol the CPC care more about their people than you think. The country where the airplane was made first denied any fault and wrong doing about max. Still denied illegal invasion of Iraq based on UN sec council resolution. trying to arrest assange. China ain’t perfect but it never claimed to be unlike the US who always claimed to be star spangled awesome.
      We still have mass shootings this past weekend for crying out loud. Talk about or not having airport like security in NYC subway? China been there done that. All subways and train station have xray and would alert knives even pocket knives. They installed camera everywhere while being shunned as spying on citizens. But look at results. Almost very little mass stabbings in recent years since I moved here.

    3. Eskimo Guest

      @BuffaloShootingisUSGovFault

      Well to be fair, the mass shooting has more to do with gun control than mass surveillance.
      In other words, you cannot really blame the US government for that. You have to blame it on the constitution with an obsolete amendment that is open to a variety of interpretation.

    4. Mantis Guest

      The two biggest fools have commented, so I believe the discussion is done. Apparently a crash we all thought was due to a suicidal pilot is actually all the fault of the 2nd amendment, Americans past and present who were so stupid as to believe in civil rights and limited government, and what else, maybe capitalism and climate change, just to save time?

    5. Max Guest

      It’s not about gun control. Switzerland and Estonia have similar gun ownership rates as the US, but gun-related crime is even lower than in many comparable countries with very restrictive gun policies.
      The difference to the US? Social cohesion, something that is non-existent in the US and many people don’t even know what it is.

      A failed society remains a failed society, no matter if guns are permitted or not.
      UK is also...

      It’s not about gun control. Switzerland and Estonia have similar gun ownership rates as the US, but gun-related crime is even lower than in many comparable countries with very restrictive gun policies.
      The difference to the US? Social cohesion, something that is non-existent in the US and many people don’t even know what it is.

      A failed society remains a failed society, no matter if guns are permitted or not.
      UK is also failed, but instead of guns the criminals are using knives for stabbing or doing Islamic acid-attacks.

    6. Kendor Guest

      Your comment is silly. Why wouldn't the CCP confirm this? They've reported lots of bad news in the past, and indeed have officially repudiated positions that were once sacrosanct (e.g. the Cultural Revolution, which pretty much everyone agrees was a disaster.)

  7. michael Guest

    I am intrigued how they determine that this is intentional by the cockpit crew.... there are a few assumptions that suggest this is a reasonable thought (especially in the absence of other theories) - but it is not like they have anyone to interview afterwards. Maybe some pilots out there can comment on how this is determined and if this is a reasonable hypothesis. If so, this is some serious mental heath issues (and yes,...

    I am intrigued how they determine that this is intentional by the cockpit crew.... there are a few assumptions that suggest this is a reasonable thought (especially in the absence of other theories) - but it is not like they have anyone to interview afterwards. Maybe some pilots out there can comment on how this is determined and if this is a reasonable hypothesis. If so, this is some serious mental heath issues (and yes, I am a healthcare provider) to intentionally drive a plane into the ground that is full of innocent men, women, and children.....

    1. Simon Guest

      The flight data recorder (one of the two typical 'black boxes') would certainly play a major role in an investigator reaching such a conclusion. This records several parameters, including control inputs and engine data. This recorder, when its data is analysed alongside the cockpit voice recorder and GPS/satellite data, could help to determine that a person (whether a pilot or intruder) applied sudden, forward stick pressure in normal level flight. If there were no other...

      The flight data recorder (one of the two typical 'black boxes') would certainly play a major role in an investigator reaching such a conclusion. This records several parameters, including control inputs and engine data. This recorder, when its data is analysed alongside the cockpit voice recorder and GPS/satellite data, could help to determine that a person (whether a pilot or intruder) applied sudden, forward stick pressure in normal level flight. If there were no other unusual parameters apparent and no need for a control input like that - that body of evidence could certainly suggest an intentional action.

    2. Dr. Stan Guest

      Hi, Michael,
      Are you a MENTAL healthcare provider? I am but wonder if all the suicide missions so far have been on approach to landing. The German Wings may not have been. If true, this current case seems unusual.

  8. RA Guest

    Given that pilots today are overworked and overstressed due to the lack of staffing it’s feasible that a lot of mental health issues will be forming in many pilots given the situation today therefore it’s important to address this issue now so that something like this won’t ever happen again

  9. Troy Guest

    There was a video on YouTube (which I can't find) about a month ago stating that this was an intentional act. Of course everything is speculative until there is evidence.
    In the video it was stated that the now first officer who was once a captain, promoted to flight instructor was demoted. No reason for the demotion was given. However, such a demotion would cause physiological and financial .Unlike western airlines it's almost impossible...

    There was a video on YouTube (which I can't find) about a month ago stating that this was an intentional act. Of course everything is speculative until there is evidence.
    In the video it was stated that the now first officer who was once a captain, promoted to flight instructor was demoted. No reason for the demotion was given. However, such a demotion would cause physiological and financial .Unlike western airlines it's almost impossible to switch companies because of blacklisting. Your level of respect especially in Asian companies correlates with your position. His demotion along with financial issues may have triggered this catastrophe.
    But like I stated before this is all speculation until evidence is provided.

  10. Syd Guest

    Have to say I'm impressed by the Chinese - it looked like intentional human factor from the start, but I thought if confirmed they'd go out of their way to hide it/make the story disappear. Kudos to them for admitting it. Not that it helps any of the victims or their families...

    1. David Guest

      Did they? This report is based on information from US officials.

  11. Quo Vadis Guest

    As soon as I saw video of the 737 diving vertically into the ground, it seemed almost certain that it was an intentional (deliberate) crash. There are essentially no scenarios where an airliner would do that on its own.

    One question I have is whether an Airbus passenger airliner could be forced into a vertical dive like that. My understanding is that, in contrast to Boeing, Airbus gives more flight control authority to fly-by-wire computers controlling the plane.

    1. Dave Guest

      As proven by Germanwings, Airbus is no different in that regard. The Germaneings pilot had successfully managed to crash an A319 into the ground, proving that Airbuses can also be driven to the ground by manpower.

    2. Max Guest

      The Germanwings Airbus was not crashed straight into the ground, but nearly horizontal into a mountain. Big difference!

    3. Simon Guest

      Without explaining how, it is certainly possible for a pilot to intentionally, and completely, remove the flight envelope protections afforded by its fly-by-wire systems.

      It is also possible for those 'normal law' protections to be degraded by externalities or system failures through no fault of the pilots.

      Regardless of the cause, flight envelope protections can degrade to various degrees - from a less degraded 'alternate law' (with some protections remaining) to a more...

      Without explaining how, it is certainly possible for a pilot to intentionally, and completely, remove the flight envelope protections afforded by its fly-by-wire systems.

      It is also possible for those 'normal law' protections to be degraded by externalities or system failures through no fault of the pilots.

      Regardless of the cause, flight envelope protections can degrade to various degrees - from a less degraded 'alternate law' (with some protections remaining) to a more degraded 'direct law' (with no protections remaining).

  12. Brian-EWA New Member

    I was on a KLM flight last week from AMS to BGO and noticed one of the pilots spent almost the whole flight in the galley hanging out with the cabin crew. I thought, "Man.. sucks to be the FA stuck in the cockpit for this long." Only, when it came time to land and the guy headed back in, nobody came out. Definitely gave me a bit of pause.

    1. Eric Guest

      Maybe this pilot was a jumpseat rider and not necessarily a working pilot?

  13. West Coast Flyer Guest

    This is why automated aircraft need to be fast tracked. In a properly designed system, manual control can always be taken from the ground where necessary. Can't have pilot error when there are no pilots.

    1. Santos Guest

      Ok so then a crazy person takes control from the ground and crashes a plane. How is that any better?

    2. Jkjkjk Guest

      There will be more than one people on the ground that can take control of the plane.

    3. snic Diamond

      On the ground you can have multiple levels of supervision. For example, an AI-trained computer that monitors what the ground pilots are doing and alerts a supervisor if anything out of the ordinary occurs. On the ground, the supervisor can check things out and take over if necessary. In the air, not so much.

  14. Harry Guest

    Does the United States still use the 2 person in the cockpit at all times rule? I would personally feeel a lot safer if so.

  15. Steve Diamond

    "This news is simultaneously reassuring and terrifying"

    Couldnt have said it any better myself. When that one video of the dive came out it seemed incredibly obvious to me this was pilot murder/suicide. Planes dont dive like that by accident.

  16. andy Guest

    Was Christine Fang really on that flight?

  17. TS Guest

    Sad to hear, but many of us knew that the 737 is a workhorse, and one of the safest airplanes in aviation history… it seemed doubtful that something would go wrong with the aircraft to cause a nosedive like that.

    It will be interesting to see how China reports on this (if at all). Many of their leaders were setting this up as a Boeing issue, and stressing the need for a Chinese aircraft manufacturer....

    Sad to hear, but many of us knew that the 737 is a workhorse, and one of the safest airplanes in aviation history… it seemed doubtful that something would go wrong with the aircraft to cause a nosedive like that.

    It will be interesting to see how China reports on this (if at all). Many of their leaders were setting this up as a Boeing issue, and stressing the need for a Chinese aircraft manufacturer. Not that it would help with intentional crashes, but aviation is one of their critical industries.

    1. Dave Guest

      I think China would be rational enough to not blame the 737 design. China Eatsern’s 737-800 grounding, which became an ungrounding one month later, is a decision internal of the airline, not an order from the CCP. Furthermore, Air China and China Southern have not grounded their 737-800s. I think CCP would be smart enough to know that at this point, a narrative that points fingers at Boeing would not add up.

  18. Chris Guest

    The FAA is so far behind the curve in allowing care and treatment for mental health of flight crews that it will take an incident of this magnitude in the US before there's a change. I don't think its a matter of if it happens in the US, its a matter of how soon will it happen.

  19. DrewT Member

    I think the FAA (I have no idea about regulators in other countries) _really_ needs to focus on pilot mental health. The fact that they risk their jobs if they try to get any help is insane. We've realized that pilots are human when flying (see CRM, human factors, etc), but they're human the rest of the time soon. I'm afraid it's only going to get worse in the coming years also.

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Brian-EWA New Member

I was on a KLM flight last week from AMS to BGO and noticed one of the pilots spent almost the whole flight in the galley hanging out with the cabin crew. I thought, "Man.. sucks to be the FA stuck in the cockpit for this long." Only, when it came time to land and the guy headed back in, nobody came out. Definitely gave me a bit of pause.

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Santos Guest

Ok so then a crazy person takes control from the ground and crashes a plane. How is that any better?

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Steve Diamond

"This news is simultaneously reassuring and terrifying" Couldnt have said it any better myself. When that one video of the dive came out it seemed incredibly obvious to me this was pilot murder/suicide. Planes dont dive like that by accident.

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