China Plane Crash: Regime Censors Information Amid Search for Victims

China announced on March 24 that it had found human remains and wreckage of the plane that crashed with 132 people on board. At the same time, the regime removed the reports with details about the victims, the airlines cutting maintenance costs, and possible reasons for the crash. On Thursday, rescue workers continued searching for possible survivors. In the rain, rescuers found a piece of aircraft wreckage in a farmer’s field about 6.2 miles from the site the plane plummeted into. They then decided to expand the search area. On March 21, flight MU5735, a Boeing 737-800 airplane operated by China Eastern Airlines, was en route from southwestern China’s Kunming city to southeastern China’s Guangzhou city, carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members. At around 2:20 p.m. local time, the plane was flying at about 29,100 feet when it suddenly nosedived into a remote mountain area in Wuzhou, Guangxi. By 4:00 p.m. of March 24, the team had found 21 victim body parts and 183 pieces of wreckage. They hadn’t found any survivors nor a complete body, dashing the hopes of the family members waiting for news about their onboard loved ones, according to the regime’s announcement. The wreckage includes engine blades, turbine parts, engine pylon remnants, left and right horizontal stabilizers, aileron autopilot actuators, wing remnants, partial winglets, and the cockpit emergency escape module. Rescue workers collect items at the site where China Eastern flight MU5375 crashed on March 21, near Wuzhou, in southwestern China’s Guangxi region, on March 24, 2022. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images) On March 23, the rescuers found the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), one of two flight recorders called“black boxes,” which records the conversations between the pilots, the pilots and the air traffic control centers on the ground, and the notification sounds that the airplane made during the flight. Zhu Tao, director of the Aviation Safety Office at China’s Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), said at a March 23 press conference that the CVR was “seriously damaged in appearance” but “relatively complete,” the recorder’s storage unit was damaged and the unit was sent to Beijing for decoding. The second black box, the flight data recorder (FDR), had not been found by press time. Censorship The MU5735 accident is China’s worst plane disaster in over a decade. After the crash, the Chinese state-run TV programs, newspapers, and news websites focused on presenting the officials’ involvement, and the rescue team’s hard work. Only a few Chinese media reported who the victims were, and their understanding of the possible cause of the crash. But most of these reports were removed from China’s internet, and netizens aren’t allowed to post or comment on social media platforms. A crew member name list was posted on social media platforms, soon after the accident. The list was quickly removed and some netizens who shared the post found their accounts were suspended. The Hong Kong based pro-Beijing Phoenix TV posted an article on its website on March 22, in which insider Lin Ping introduced personal information about the pilots and the transportation security officer of MU5735. Fragments of the wreckage of the China Eastern passenger jet that crashed onto a mountainside in Tengxian county, Wuzhou city, in China’s southern Guangxi region, are taken on March 21, 2022. (CNS/AFP via Getty Images) “The captain’s name is Yang Hongda, a young man from a rich family,” the report quoted Lin, and said that Yang’s father is a pilot, who used to work for China Eastern Airlines but works for another airline now. “The co-pilot Zhang Zhengping is a ‘five-star’ captain. Many pilots who learned from him are high-ranking pilots in China,” Lin added. “Lu Kai, the transportation security officer was in this position for over 10 days.” A third pilot, Ni Gongtao, was on the plane as a trainee. He was a young pilot in his 20s and had worked for the airline for three years. The Phoenix TV report verified the names on the crew member list removed from the internet, and was broadly reposted by media in mainland China. However, these reposted articles were removed from the internet within hours. Chinese people can no longer read the article because the regime’s Great FireWall doesn’t allow its internet users to freely surf the web. China Eastern Airlines announced the flight hours of the three pilots without mentioning their names at the March 23 press conference. According to the airlines, Yang earned 6,709 flight hours, Zhang had 31,769 flight hours, and Ni had flown 556 hours. The airlines emphasized at the conference that the three pilots were healthy and had harmonious families. The airlines didn’t say anything about why the experienced Zhang was co-pilot rather than the captain. Rescuers work near the site where China Eastern flight MU5375 crashed on March 21, near Wuzhou, in southwestern China’s Guangxi region on March 24, 2022. (Noel Ce

China Plane Crash: Regime Censors Information Amid Search for Victims

China announced on March 24 that it had found human remains and wreckage of the plane that crashed with 132 people on board. At the same time, the regime removed the reports with details about the victims, the airlines cutting maintenance costs, and possible reasons for the crash.

On Thursday, rescue workers continued searching for possible survivors. In the rain, rescuers found a piece of aircraft wreckage in a farmer’s field about 6.2 miles from the site the plane plummeted into. They then decided to expand the search area.

On March 21, flight MU5735, a Boeing 737-800 airplane operated by China Eastern Airlines, was en route from southwestern China’s Kunming city to southeastern China’s Guangzhou city, carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members. At around 2:20 p.m. local time, the plane was flying at about 29,100 feet when it suddenly nosedived into a remote mountain area in Wuzhou, Guangxi.

By 4:00 p.m. of March 24, the team had found 21 victim body parts and 183 pieces of wreckage. They hadn’t found any survivors nor a complete body, dashing the hopes of the family members waiting for news about their onboard loved ones, according to the regime’s announcement.

The wreckage includes engine blades, turbine parts, engine pylon remnants, left and right horizontal stabilizers, aileron autopilot actuators, wing remnants, partial winglets, and the cockpit emergency escape module.

Epoch Times Photo
Rescue workers collect items at the site where China Eastern flight MU5375 crashed on March 21, near Wuzhou, in southwestern China’s Guangxi region, on March 24, 2022. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)

On March 23, the rescuers found the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), one of two flight recorders called“black boxes,” which records the conversations between the pilots, the pilots and the air traffic control centers on the ground, and the notification sounds that the airplane made during the flight.

Zhu Tao, director of the Aviation Safety Office at China’s Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), said at a March 23 press conference that the CVR was “seriously damaged in appearance” but “relatively complete,” the recorder’s storage unit was damaged and the unit was sent to Beijing for decoding.

The second black box, the flight data recorder (FDR), had not been found by press time.

Censorship

The MU5735 accident is China’s worst plane disaster in over a decade. After the crash, the Chinese state-run TV programs, newspapers, and news websites focused on presenting the officials’ involvement, and the rescue team’s hard work.

Only a few Chinese media reported who the victims were, and their understanding of the possible cause of the crash. But most of these reports were removed from China’s internet, and netizens aren’t allowed to post or comment on social media platforms.

A crew member name list was posted on social media platforms, soon after the accident. The list was quickly removed and some netizens who shared the post found their accounts were suspended.

The Hong Kong based pro-Beijing Phoenix TV posted an article on its website on March 22, in which insider Lin Ping introduced personal information about the pilots and the transportation security officer of MU5735.

Epoch Times Photo
Fragments of the wreckage of the China Eastern passenger jet that crashed onto a mountainside in Tengxian county, Wuzhou city, in China’s southern Guangxi region, are taken on March 21, 2022. (CNS/AFP via Getty Images)

“The captain’s name is Yang Hongda, a young man from a rich family,” the report quoted Lin, and said that Yang’s father is a pilot, who used to work for China Eastern Airlines but works for another airline now.

“The co-pilot Zhang Zhengping is a ‘five-star’ captain. Many pilots who learned from him are high-ranking pilots in China,” Lin added. “Lu Kai, the transportation security officer was in this position for over 10 days.”

A third pilot, Ni Gongtao, was on the plane as a trainee. He was a young pilot in his 20s and had worked for the airline for three years.

The Phoenix TV report verified the names on the crew member list removed from the internet, and was broadly reposted by media in mainland China. However, these reposted articles were removed from the internet within hours. Chinese people can no longer read the article because the regime’s Great FireWall doesn’t allow its internet users to freely surf the web.

China Eastern Airlines announced the flight hours of the three pilots without mentioning their names at the March 23 press conference. According to the airlines, Yang earned 6,709 flight hours, Zhang had 31,769 flight hours, and Ni had flown 556 hours. The airlines emphasized at the conference that the three pilots were healthy and had harmonious families. The airlines didn’t say anything about why the experienced Zhang was co-pilot rather than the captain.

Epoch Times Photo
Rescuers work near the site where China Eastern flight MU5375 crashed on March 21, near Wuzhou, in southwestern China’s Guangxi region on March 24, 2022. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)

Even the state-run media reports were removed from China’s internet.

On March 22, People magazine (owned by People’s Press) published a long article about the passengers on MU5735, including a newly married male, a 16-year-old girl who planned to study in a British high school this fall, a middle-aged business trainer who has three children, six members of a family who planned to attend a funeral in Guangzhou, and an accountant who just finished an auditing job in Kunming.

The article was removed a few hours after it was published.

A group of removed articles were related to China Eastern Airlines’ maintenance operations. On March 21, a series of articles quoted the airlines’ previous announcements that the airlines operated 752 airplanes at the end of February, and had cut the maintenance budget and lowered the weight of the planes to save gasoline and cut costs.

In October 2019, China Eastern Airlines repaired a Boeing 737 NG plane’s pickle fork, a component that connects the wing structure, landing gear and fuselage, rather than sending it back to Boeing. At that time, the airlines boasted that its mechanics had to find alternate solutions to install the new parts because they didn’t have the proper tools.

On March 21, China affairs commentators outside China questioned whether the airlines used alternate parts and tools on other airplanes that would risk the safety of the airplanes.

On March 24,China Eastern removed the old promotion articles and videos, and stated that the Boeing 737 NG plane with the repaired pickle fork was retired in September 2020, and the plane that crashed was only 6.8 years old.


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Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.