5 days after the crash, the 2nd black box escapes Chinese researchers

Five days after an airliner crashed in mountainous southern China, the cause of the disaster remains a mystery as the search for the plane’s second black box continues

Hundreds of people, many wearing white hazmat suits, combed through the impact zone and a much larger debris field along steep slopes. They were looking for a box containing the flight data recorder, along with pieces of wreckage and the personal effects and body parts of the 132 on board who perished in the crash.

Persistent rain frustrated the task, and the remote location necessitated the use of dogs and hand tools, including metal detectors more often seen at airports.

Wallets, identity and bank cards and human remains were found, along with several large pieces of wings and fuselage.

China Eastern’s Boeing 737-800 left a 20-meter-deep (65ft) hole when it fell from the sky on Monday and workers pumped out rainwater to aid in the search.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said talks are underway with China about sending an expert to help with the investigation, as is customary when the planes involved are from U.S. manufacturers.

“Travel to China is currently restricted by visa and COVID quarantine requirements. We are working with the State Department to resolve these issues with the Chinese government before any travel is determined,” NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said in a statement.

China Eastern said earlier that the grounding of planes was a precaution, not a sign that there was something wrong. The airline said the plane that crashed was in good condition and its flight crew were experienced and in good health.

The crashed plane was flying from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in China’s mountainous southwest, to Guangzhou, a major city and export manufacturing hub in the southeast. Authorities say there were no foreign passengers on board.

Investigators said it was too early to discuss possible causes. An air traffic controller tried to contact the pilots several times after seeing the plane’s altitude drop sharply, but got no response, officials said.

Flight MU5735 was cruising at 29,000 feet (8,800 meters) when it crashed, starting a fire visible in NASA satellite images.

The “black boxes”, usually painted orange so that they can be easily found, are considered essential in determining the cause of the accident. They are usually stored in the rear section of the aircraft where they are most likely to survive a crash.

The first flight recorder was found relatively close to the impact area, its outer casing heavily damaged but the internal unit largely intact, investigators said.

Cockpit voice recorders can capture voices, audio alerts and background noises of engine or switches being moved. The flight data recorder stores information about speed, altitude, and direction, as well as pilot actions and the performance of important systems.

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Associated Press video producer Olivia Zhang in Wuzhou, China; researchers Yu Bing in Beijing and Chen Si in Shanghai; press assistant Caroline Chen in Beijing; and writer David Koenig in Dallas, Texas contributed to it.