Investigators looking into the crash of a China Eastern Airlines jet are examining the actions of the crew on the flight deck, with no evidence found of a technical malfunction, two people briefed on the matter said.
In mainland China’s deadliest aviation disaster for 28 years, the Boeing 737-800 crashed in the mountains of southern Guangxi on March 21, after a sudden plunge from cruising altitude, killing all 123 passengers and nine crew.
The pilots did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers and nearby planes during the rapid descent, authorities have said.
On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal said flight data from one of the black boxes indicated that someone in the cockpit intentionally crashed the plane, citing people familiar with the preliminary assessment of US officials.
One source told Reuters that investigators were looking at whether the crash was a “voluntary” act involving crew inputs to the controls, though that does not necessarily mean the dive was intentional.
The cockpit voice recorder was damaged during the crash and it is unclear whether investigators have been able to retrieve any information from it.
Boeing Co, the maker of the jet, and the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) declined to comment and referred questions to Chinese regulators.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), which is leading the investigation, did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Screenshots of the Wall Street Journal story appeared to have been censored both on China’s Weibo social media platform and the Wechat messaging app on Wednesday.
The hashtag topics “China Eastern” and “China Eastern black boxes” are banned on Weibo, which cited a breach of laws, and users are unable to share posts on the incident in Wechat groups.
In an April 11 response to internet rumors of a deliberate crash, the CAAC said the speculation had “gravely misled the public” and “interfered with the accident investigation work”.
On Wednesday, a woman who had lost her husband in the crash, asked to be identified only by her surname, Wen, said she had not seen the Wall Street Journal report but hoped the results of the investigation would be released soon.
Wen added that she and other members of victims’ families had signed an agreement with China Eastern that included a clause on compensation, but declined to say how much was offered.
The Wall Street Journal said the airline had said in a statement that no evidence had emerged that could determine if there were any problems with the aircraft.