U.S. crash investigators have secured visas and hope to travel to China this week to join an ongoing investigation into what caused a Boeing 737 to make an extreme descent into mountainous terrain on March 21, the National Transportation Safety Board announced Tuesday.
The NTSB, which has assembled a team from Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, has been in contact with China’s lead investigators, who recovered two “black boxes” at the site of the China Eastern Airlines crash in Guangxi province.
The cockpit voice recorder can illuminate conversations among pilots and crew members, while the digital flight data recorder provides a moment-by-moment accounting of the plane’s systems and performance. The crash killed all 132 people on board.
China has made major improvements in its aviation safety system in recent decades. Experts say the type of Boeing jet that went down, the 737-800, is widely flown internationally and has a strong safety record.
China has strict pandemic-related protocols, including requirements for extended quarantines for those arriving from overseas. U.S. and Chinese negotiators are still discussing the protocols that will govern travel by U.S. investigators, as well as other logistics, according to the NTSB. Those details should be worked out before the team leaves for China, according to agency officials. Engine maker CFM International said it is supporting the investigation but does not have plans to send representatives to China.
The crash is China’s deadliest since 1994, when a China Northwest Airlines flight crashed in Xian, killing 160 people.