Chinese authorities have just released some of the first definitive information about the circumstances surrounding the crash of China Eastern Airlines flight MU5735, which suddenly nosedived into the Guangxi Mountains on Monday, killing all 132 passengers and crew on board, and snapping China's 12-year streak with no passenger airliner crashes. Unfortunately, their cryptic revelation raises more questions than it provides answers.
According to Bloomberg, at least one piece of the ill-fated Boeing Co. 737-800 appears to have broken loose well before impact, possibly in mid-air, and potentially resulting in the devastating crash, which occurred before the plane's pilots had time to send an emergency signal to air traffic control.
Authorities didn't say which piece exactly had broken off - only that it was found about 6 miles from the main wreckage area.
Assuming that investigators confirm that the part did indeed come from the jet (of course, that would be some coincidence if it didn't), this would indicate that the plane suffered some kind of midair breakup, which could in turn offer clues about what exactly precipitated Monday’s crash - or at the very least shed light on the flight’s final seconds.
"The questions are: exactly what piece was it and when did it come off?" said Jeff Guzzetti, the former chief of accident investigations at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
As we have reported, the highly unusual arc of the plane's dive, and the suddenness with which it occurred, has baffled airline safety experts.
It’s impossible to know at this early stage in the investigation whether the piece came loose as a result of stresses during the high-speed plunge or broke off before the sudden descent.
The most likely scenario is that the piece sheared off as the plane plummeted from its cruising altitude of about 29,000 feet, which occurred in the span of about 1 minute and 35 seconds.
"In my view, that’s the aircraft shedding parts as it’s coming down," Guzzetti said.
Rescue workers have found 183 pieces of wreckage, but heavy rainfall has hampered efforts to find the plane's second black box, and its cockpit voice recorded was found to be heavily damaged, possibly rendering data recovery impossible. They have also found human remains at the site, and confirmed that there were in fact no survivors.