China Eastern Flight 5735 crashed into a forested area in China on a clear day, in a commonly used aircraft and with no ‘mayday’ call recorded. So what was the cause?

Chinese officials have now confirmed that all 132 passengers and crew onboard the flight lost their lives when it collided in Guangxi on 21 March 2022.

The aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 (a 737 ‘Next Generation’ aircraft), was flying a domestic route – from Kunming to Guangzhou. All of a sudden, around an hour into flight, contact was lost and the aircraft fell into a sudden descent.

The question everybody in the aviation community is asking around the world is: what happened to Flight 5735?

Ron Bartsch: a “really unusual” plane crash

Avlaw Founding Director Ron Bartsch spoke about the China plane crash to Nine News and to Sky News, and emphasised the peculiarity of the incident.

It’s very unusual in that this was a relatively short domestic flight of two hours, the weather was clear and it was daylight. The aircraft would have been in a state, probably almost at the top of descent. So it’s not really a situation where there is a high workload on pilots.

Mr Bartsch said that there are a lot of things that we can rule out as being the cause of the crash. This would include design, manufacture and fatigue.

What do the black boxes say?

We don’t know just yet.

Authorities have located the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, commonly known as ‘black boxes’.

Both boxes have been sent to the U.S. for analysis.

Until we know what these pieces of equipment tell us, we won’t know for sure what happened on board the plane.

China plane crash not like the Boeing 737 Max incident

Boeing received international attention after the Lion Air crash in 2018 and the Ethiopian Airlines disaster in 2019.

Both of the planes involved in those two disasters were the Boeing 737 Max. This was grounded by authorities across the world after the two incidents.

The cause of both crashes was a particular anti-stall feature on the aircraft known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), a system which malfunctioned and caused both planes to dive straight into the ground.

Unlike the 737 Max, however, the Boeing aircraft involved in the China plane crash does not appear to have a design feature that caused the accident.

The 737-800 is the most common version of Boeing’s jets in service. There are over 4,500 of them operating worldwide, and they are also the most common plane model in the United States (just behind the Airbus A320). The aircraft is also tried and trusted, and is unlike the 737 Max which was brand new when the crashes occurred.

The aircraft is known to have some safety issues in the past, but it’s never been grounded.

Something “quick” and “catastrophic” would have happened

Whatever happened to the aircraft, it is clear that something very quickly had to occur. This is because, according to Mr Bartsch, there was no maydall call – something experienced pilots always do in the event of an emergency.

Ron Bartsch told Nine News:

The only thing I could possibly think of is that it struck something – maybe a small aircraft or perhaps even a drone. Something happened drastically in that flight deck for this to happen so urgently.

Terrorism, Mr Bartsch said on Sky News, is a “plausible explanation”.

But we won’t know for sure until the black boxes are unscrambled.

We will provide a second and more comprehensive article later in the month when more information is known.