On March 21, 2022, China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crashed in a mountainous region of Guangxi, killing everyone on board. The Boeing 737-800 was transporting 132 people from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, to Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, when something went disastrously wrong.
Chinese Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 Plane Crash Investigation Update - Click here for the last update on April 20, 2022
Authorities say Flight MU5735 abruptly lost altitude at approximately 2:20 p.m. The aircraft plunged from a cruising altitude of 29,100 to roughly 8,000 feet in just over a minute. A city manager from nearby Wuzhou confirmed that a surveillance camera captured footage of the China Eastern Airlines crash. Video footage of the crash shows the Boeing 737-800 colliding with terrain at a nearly vertical angle, followed by flames and black smoke.
Locals who rushed to the crash area found only shattered debris with no signs of survivors. Chinese state media issued a report in the aftermath of the crash, noting the “situation with casualties remains unclear.” However, officials said that after searching for over a day, no survivors were found, which makes the China Eastern crash the deadliest air disaster the country has seen in over a decade.
The Boeing 737-800 operating as China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 had been in service for nearly seven years. Boeing delivered the twin-engine, single-aisle commercial plane in 2015.
An airline representative told the media that the plane departed from Kunming at 1:16 p.m. and was flying normally until the ground air traffic control station in Wuzhou noticed the aircraft experienced a sudden altitude change. Controllers lost contact with the plane before it impacted with terrain.
The Chinese government has dispatched officials to investigate the cause of the China Eastern 5735 crash. The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) appointed a senior air safety investigator as a U.S. accredited representative to the investigation of the China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 crash.
Plane Crash Lawyers with Track Record Against China Eastern Airlines and The Boeing Company
Plane crash lawyers from the Baum Hedlund law firm have decades of experience taking on major airlines and aircraft manufacturers in litigation, including China Eastern Airlines and The Boeing Company. Our firm has represented more than 800 passengers, crew members, and victims of commercial airline accidents and incidents. Since 1973, we have won over half a billion dollars for aviation accident clients and more than $4 billion across all areas of practice. Put simply: we know what it takes to win big cases against any corporate defendant.
In the complex area of international aviation law, we have successfully resolved cases for clients from dozens of countries throughout the world. Baum Hedlund is one of the more experienced aviation accident law firms in the world.
In the 1990s, 43 Chinese Nationals chose our firm to represent them in a case stemming from a China Eastern Airlines in-flight accident in which one of its planes violently pitched up and down over the Pacific Ocean due to a defective flap handle. The incident caused dozens of injuries and even death.
Some of our top settlements and verdicts in airline accident cases include:
- $17.5 million settlement for the death of a passenger in a major US plane crash
- $14 million settlement for the death of a passenger in a major US plane crash
- $10 million settlement for the death of a passenger in a major foreign plane crash
Other firm highlights in aviation litigation include:
- First U.S. law firm to get an official public apology from an airline for a crash
- 200+ cases handled involving Boeing planes
- Appointed to 15 commercial aviation Plaintiffs’ Steering Committees and leadership positions
A selection of our case history involving Boeing 737 aircraft:
- Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 Crash | Boeing 737 MAX 8 (2019)
- Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 Inflight Emergency | Boeing 737-7H4 (2018)
- Southwest Airlines Flight 812 Inflight Emergency | Boeing 737 (2011)
- American Airlines Flight 331 Runway Accident | Boeing 737-800 (2009)
- Continental Airlines Flight 1404 Runway Accident | Boeing 737-524 (2008)
- Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 Runway Accident | Boeing 737-7H4 (2005)
- Southwest Airlines Flight 1455 Runway Accident | Boeing 737 (2000)
- USAir Flight 427 Crash| Boeing 737-3B7 (1994)
If you would like to learn more about your legal rights after an aviation accident, call our legal team at (855) 948-5098 or submit an online contact form today to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation. Remember, there are no fees unless we win compensation on your behalf.
What Caused the China Eastern Airlines Crash?
Following the crash, China Eastern Airlines announced that it “will actively cooperate with relevant investigations.” Commercial airline crash investigations typically take 18 months or more to complete, so it will be a while before we know the official cause of the MU-5735 crash.
Reports in the area at the time of the crash do not indicate that weather was a factor. The temperature at the time was approximately 86 degrees Fahrenheit with winds at less than 12 miles per hour, and visibility at 10 miles.
In the aftermath of the crash, China Eastern Airlines announced that it was grounding Boeing 737-800s in its fleet.
According to veteran aviation attorney Ronald L. M. Goldman, investigators looking for potential causes or contributing factors will focus on:
- The actions of the pilots before the crash
- The training of the pilots
- The maintenance records for the Boeing 737-800
- The wreckage for indicators of possible mechanical failure
- The wreckage scatter for clues as to when any critical part might have failed while in flight
- Analysis of the black box information, if available, in an effort to determine if any system, mechanical or software, malfunctioned causing the nosedive.
Flightradar24 data for China Eastern Airlines flight #MU5735 from Kunming to Guangzhou.— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) March 21, 2022
At 06:20:59 UTC the Boeing 737-800 aircraft started to lose altitude very fast. At 06:22:35 UTC last ADS-B signal showed vertical speed -31.000 feet per minute.https://t.co/Lwo8klGf8g pic.twitter.com/UEZaa9asua
“Based on what we know from the video footage, it seems likely that the pilots faced a mechanical failure from which they could not recover,” says Goldman, who recently represented clients in cases stemming from the Lion Air Flight 610 crash and the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash. Both of those incidents involved Boeing 737 MAX planes, a different model than the 737-800 that crashed in southern China. “It is hoped the so-called ‘black boxes’ (the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder) survived well enough so that the information recorded on them can be downloaded and analyzed and placed in context with the inspection of the wreckage: until then, it is not likely that a probable cause or causes that led to the catastrophe can be well understood”, Goldman said.
Investigations into the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes revealed that Boeing has a “disturbing pattern of technical miscalculations and troubling management misjudgments” relating to its safety record on the 737 MAX aircraft.
“Boeing rushed the design and manufacture of the 737 MAX to keep pace with its competitors,” Goldman said during litigation against Boeing. “The company’s misconduct caused both the Lion Air crash and the Ethiopian Airlines crash, which were both preventable.”
In November of 2021, Boeing agreed to acknowledge responsibility for the Ethiopian Airlines crash. Boeing admitted that the “737 MAX had an unsafe condition, and that it will not attempt to blame anyone else" for the fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash. The company paid over $2.5 billion in a fine to the Department of Justice that resolved a criminal charge that Boeing conspired to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The China Eastern crash involved a Boeing 737-800, part of Boeing’s so-called Next Generation (NG) line of narrow-body commercial jets that have a maximum range of over 3,000 miles. The 737 MAX is the newer version of Boeing’s NG line.
Aviation Attorney: Early Signs Point to Possibility of Defective Plane
While the investigation into the cause of the China Eastern Airlines crash is ongoing, an aviation accident attorney with numerous cases against Boeing believes a defect with the plane remains a possibility. In an interview with Law.com (link is behind a paywall) discussing the fatal crash, attorney Ronald L. M. Goldman said the four-foot piece of debris found miles from the point of impact could be evidence of a “catastrophic event” with the Boeing 737-800.
According to Goldman:
“The possibility of mounting a case against Boeing grows when we find that there was some part that might have come off if that turns out to be true. That may well suggest this is another in a line of manufacturing or design defects that has plagued Boeing’s fleet.”
While a design flaw or a mechanical issue may have caused or contributed to the crash, he also cited faulty maintenance and inspection as being “high on the list of suspicion.”
“There are so many ways maintenance can cause a disaster, but if this part that was found six miles away came from this airplane, it would be possible they missed or didn’t perform inspections that were necessary that would have been designed to detect corrosion or some other anomaly that should have been detected during a maintenance event,” Goldman said.
He added that the possibility for faulty maintenance might explain China Eastern Airlines’ decision to ground its fleet of 737’s after the crash. Per Goldman: “If they had a program of skipping some inspections, and then they get this event, they should say, ‘Oh, my God, what did we do?’”
Chinese authorities have confirmed that the large piece of debris and another fragment found miles from the impact site were pieces of the Boeing 737-800’s winglets, which are wing tip extensions that create extra lift. The parts are lightweight, which may explain why the debris was found so far from the impact zone. Failure to a winglet would not cause the plane to enter a nosedive like MU5735. It is possible that the winglet broke off from the aircraft as the plane plummeted to the ground.
What investigators are trying to determine is why the plane was at a nearly 90-degree angle when it crashed. Commercial airliners are designed to maintain flight. A plane like the Boeing 737-800 has a natural tendency to level off midflight. Achieving a nosedive at this angle requires tremendous force on the horizontal stabilizers, which control the airliner’s pitch (whether the plane is nose up or nose down) The horizontal stabilizers are located on either side of the plane’s tail.
Did the plane plummet to the ground nose first because the horizontal stabilizers failed? Or is it possible that one of the pilots deliberately crashed the plane? According to Goldman, while the crash does not have the characteristics of a pilot purposely bringing down the plane, the possibility remains “a big question mark.”
Goldman and his firm successfully represented the family of the only two American residents killed in the 2015 Germanwings Flight 9525 crash. Investigators found that the Germanwings pilot deliberately steered the plane into mountainous terrain, killing everyone on board. Baum Hedlund’s trial team in the case of Selke, et al. v. Germanwings GMBH, et al. was a finalist for the 2018 Elite Trial Lawyers award in the consumer protection practice area.
China Plane Crash Pilots Were Experienced
The pilot in command of China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 had accrued more than 6,000 hours of flight time in his career. His co-pilot’s flying career dates back to the early days of China’s post-Mao era and includes training on aircraft ranging from Soviet biplanes to modern Boeing jets. Together, the two men had accrued roughly 39,000 hours of flying time.
China’s state-owned Ta Kung Pao newspaper and Hong Kong’s Phoenix Magazine identified the pilot as Yang Hongda and the first co-pilot as Zhang Zhengping. The newspaper said Mr. Zhang was “one of the few veteran pilots, a mentor to young captains, and a witness to the rapid growth of Yunnan’s aviation industry since the era of reform and opening-up began 40 years ago.” He mentored over 100 pilots in his career, including Mr. Yang, who had steadily risen in the ranks at China Eastern Airlines.
A third pilot who had more than 500 hours of flying time was also on the plane. Authorities said all of the men had valid health certificates, were fit to fly, and their “family conditions were stable.”
The Boeing 737-800 is the most popular Boeing jet in service and is widely considered a workhorse in commercial aviation. According to Boeing, more than 5,000 737-800 planes were sold throughout the world between 1998 and 2020, more than any other Boeing model. It is the most widely used commercial plane in the U.S. and China.
But while many airlines throughout the world count the 737-800 as a large part of their fleet, U.S. aviation authorities have issued safety warnings, including an emergency airworthiness directive.
Notable Boeing 737-800 Accidents
Since 2006, Boeing 737-800 planes have been involved in roughly a dozen fatal crashes. Most of these incidents involved aircraft crashing during landing attempts, midair collisions, or missile strikes. But the model has been involved in other incidents that raised questions about safety:
Turkish Airlines Flight 1951 (2009) – A 737-800 with 135 passengers and crew members on board crashed in a field while attempting to land at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Nine people died, including five passengers, both pilots, a pilot-in-training, and another crew member. Eighty-four people sustained injuries. The post-crash investigation initially focused on a malfunctioning left radar altimeter. This may have caused false altitude information, which resulted in the plane’s autothrottle reducing power. This caused the plane to stall and crash.
A 2020 New York Times report found that Dutch investigators "either excluded or played down criticisms" of Boeing after being pressured by Boeing and US federal aviation officials, who "emphasized pilot error as a factor…rather than design flaws." Per the New York Times report: “Decisions by Boeing, including risky design choices and faulty safety assessments, also contributed to the accident on the Turkish Airlines flight.”
China Airlines Flight 120 (2007) – A 737-800 caught fire after landing at Naha Airport in Okinawa. While no deaths were reported, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive (EAD) ordering all Boeing 737NG series aircraft to be inspected for loose components in the wing leading edge slats within 24 days. FAA issued a subsequent EAD requiring a detailed borescope inspection within 10 days, and an explicit tightening of a nut-and-bolt assembly within 24 days.
China Eastern Airlines Background
China Eastern Airlines is China’s second-largest commercial airline behind China Southern Airlines. With a fleet of hundreds of planes, Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines provides service to 177 countries. The Chinese government is a major shareholder in the airline.
Like other major airlines in China, China Eastern Airlines has a modern fleet of aircraft and has been one of the world’s largest aircraft buyers of the last decade. Until the China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735, the airline had not seen a fatal crash since 2004.
The China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crash is one of the worst that China has seen since 1994, when a China Northwest Airlines plane crashed while transporting 160 people from Xian to Guangzhou. There were no survivors. China’s last fatal commercial airline crash happened in 2010 when an Embraer E-190 plane operated by Henan Airlines crashed during approach to Yichun airport.
China Eastern Airlines Crash Investigation Update
The preliminary report from investigators looking into the China Eastern crash last month did not offer any clues as to what may have caused China’s deadliest air disaster in over a decade. The report summarized information on what was working properly before the fatal crash:
- Officials found no issues with the Boeing 737-800 before it departed for Guangzhou in southern China.
- The plane did not have any dangerous cargo onboard.
- All of the pilots met China’s standards for flying commercial planes.
- Communication remained normal throughout the flight until the airliner entered into a steep nosedive and crashed.
Per the report: “The investigation found that the flight and cabin crew onboard, as well as the maintenance and clearance personnel, met qualification requirements…Before it deviated from cruising altitude, there was nothing abnormal in wireless communications between the crew and air control or in the control commands.”
Commercial airliners like the Boeing 737-800 are designed to maintain flight. For an airliner to fly straight down like China Eastern Flight 5735, it would require extreme force to be continuously applied to the horizontal stabilizers. A mechanical failure or an issue with the flight software could potentially force the plane into a nose-first dive, as could a pilot deliberately sabotaging the plane. The preliminary report issued Wednesday does not delve into any of these possibilities.
What we still do not know is what, if anything, can be learned about the crash from the aircraft’s black boxes. The flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder have both been recovered and officials in the U.S. have been helping Chinese officials download the data. However, both black boxes sustained severe damage in the crash, so it may take some time before we get information from either.
“Although “black boxes” are designed to withstand the impact forces from crashes, they are not totally indestructible. They can be damaged to the point that it could become difficult or impossible to extract reliable data or recordings from them. Early reports suggest that the impact forces in this case were severe enough to cause considerable damage to them,” says aviation attorney Ronald L. M. Goldman. “Nevertheless, experts have continued to work on this, and, we hope, will ultimately be successful and get sufficient information to help unlock the mystery of this disaster.”
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has officially refuted the rumor that China Eastern Airlines flight MU5375 was caused by the co-pilot’s error. Some have speculated that the crash that took 132 lives was caused by the co-pilot, but the CAAC was quick to say the rumors are only online speculation. The black box data that the rumor mill claims to prove that the co-pilot did something wrong is reportedly still being investigated, so there is no solid evidence to back that claim. Additionally, there were three pilots aboard the flight, and it not yet clear which two were at the controls, it is unclear which co-pilot the rumors are attempting to blame.
Officials from CAAC have said that humoring the rumors would hurt the public’s confidence in its investigation of flight MU5375. It did not give a clear estimate of when the investigation would likely conclude. Moreover, it is hurtful to the grieving families to publicize rank speculation about the cause or causes that led to the tragedy; the truth will help – mere rumors will not.
The CAAC restated that it is working with members of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to uncover the true cause of the crash. The regulatory industry also said it is prioritizing the physical and mental health of pilots, flight attendants, and airline workers who have been impacted and harrowed by the loss of flight MU5375 and all 132 people onboard. It has urged airlines operating in China to provide much-needed mental health services to its staff during this time.
The director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has promised to step up the country’s safety checks with “extreme” vigilance in the wake of the China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crash in March. During a conference this week, CAAC director Feng Zhenglin urged officials to improve their knowledge of air safety regulations and implement more robust safety inspections to detect risks.
According to Feng, “the entire industry must draw a lesson from the painful [MU5735 crash] experience and strive to prioritize the life and safety of people in conducting post-disaster follow-up measures, summarize the lessons learned based on investigation outcomes to strengthen safety and ensure the absolute safety of people’s lives.”
Authorities from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Honeywell International are assisting Chinese authorities to analyze data from both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. NTSB officials told the media that the cockpit voice recorder was sent to its lab in Washington DC for analysis. Now, the agency says it is also analyzing the flight data recorder, which tracks a plane’s flight path and how its systems are performing.
Honeywell International is the manufacturer of both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. Company technicians are also assisting with the analysis of both devices, which were damaged in the crash.
It has been two weeks since the fatal crash of China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735, and the airline still has its entire fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft grounded. The airline decided to ground all 108 of its 737-800 planes on March 21, 2022, the day of the MU5735 crash in Southern China. Less than a quarter of China Eastern Airlines’ Boeing 737 planes are currently in use. Of the 150 737’s in the fleet, only 35 are listed as active.
Officials from the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Boeing arrived in China to investigate the China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crash. The agency confirmed that a seven-member team will assist in the investigation and try to determine what caused the China Eastern crash, one of the country’s worst aviation disasters in recent history. Chinese officials have collected more than 49,000 pieces of debris from the crash. The government plans to issue a preliminary report on the crash by April 20, which is in line with the timetables established in the Convention on International Civil Aviation.
Officials from the NTSB confirmed that the cockpit voice recorder is being analyzed at the agency’s lab in Washington DC. According to an NTSB spokesperson, the agency is “assisting the Civil Aviation Administration of China with the download of the cockpit voice recorder from China Eastern Flight 5735 in our lab in Washington."
Officials have identified all 132 victims of the China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crash using DNA samples from relatives. Families of the victims visited the crash site Sunday on the seventh day of death, which is when the dead return home, according to East Asian custom. Recovery workers removed their helmets and held three minutes of silence in tribute to the deceased.
Officials have planned more than 600 trips for grieving relatives to visit the crash site.
Search crews have located and recovered the second black box from the China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 crash in southern China. Investigators are hopeful the flight data recorder that was recovered Sunday will provide clues as to what caused Flight 5735 to plummet from the sky and crash into mountainous terrain.
A flight data recorder stores the aircraft’s speed, altitude, mechanical performance, and other useful information. Last Wednesday, search crews found the other black box, the cockpit voice recorder, which was sent to Beijing for investigators to analyze.
Workers found the flight data recorder five feet underground. Government officials say the impact of the China Eastern Airlines crash created a 65-foot crater in the side of a mountain. Most of the debris from the crash has been found within 30 yards of the impact point. However, a four-foot piece of debris that officials believe is a part of the wreckage was found roughly six miles from the impact point.
So far, crews have recovered parts of the Boeing 737’s wings, engines, landing gear, and other pieces of wreckage, in addition to the two black boxes.
Officials said they have located engine components and a part of the plane’s wing. Additionally, a four-foot piece of debris that investigators believe was part of the plane was found roughly six miles from the crash site. It may become of crucial interest to determine precisely to what part of the plane this debris belonged, and exactly where it was found. Conceivably, this could be an important clue in the effort to determine what initiated the steep nosedive that ended in tragedy. Search teams have now widened the search radius in the hopes of locating the plane’s flight data recorder.
One of the black boxes from the downed China Eastern Airlines plane crash has been found. Officials said the cockpit voice recorder did not get as damaged in the crash as some expected. The cockpit voice recorder casing was badly damaged but the hard discs inside that store data is “relatively complete,” authorities say.
The cockpit voice recorder could prove vital as investigators listen to communications between the pilot and co-pilot, as well as any alarms sounding as the plane was going down. Investigators are hopeful that they will recover the other black box, the flight data recorder, which should provide valuable technical information on the operation of the plane prior to the crash. The flight data recorder is located on the back of the plane, which means it was likely better protected in a nose-first crash than the cockpit voice recorder in the front of the plane.
China has deployed hundreds of rescue workers to the remote site of the MU-5735 crash. While there had been some hope for survivors in the immediate aftermath of the crash, officials said the speed with which the plane collided with terrain made the crash impossible to survive. Authorities have begun searching for the plane’s black boxes, which would give investigators more information on what happened before the crash. Officials hope to recover the flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, and other useful data. Due to the severity of the impact and the destruction of the plane, however, it is possible that the black boxes were either destroyed or badly damaged.