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China Air Crash: Separating Facts from Fake News

A Boeing 737-800 of China Eastern Airlines crashed yesterday, baffling a lot of real as well as self-styled ‘experts.’

The confusion was not helped by fake videos and pictures doing the rounds on the social media, being picked up even by prestigious news outlets.

I’ve been flying Boeing 737 for almost two decades, which is why many friends called to ask my humble opinion about this crash. So let’s take a quick look at the facts before we destroy the rumours and come to any conclusions.

Facts.

1. This airplane was a Boeing 737NG, and not the Max, which was grounded worldwide after two crashes and has begun flying again only recently.

2. The accident happened in cruise phase of the flight, which is the longest and statistically the safest part of the flight, simply because the airplane is at a high altitude and speed, which gives the pilots more time to deal with any abnormal situation. Most accidents occur during the take-off and landing phases, when the height and speed are low – offering less reaction time.

3. When we practice ‘Rapid depressurisation’ in the simulator and carry out an ‘Emergency Descent,’ the highest rate of descent we see is just around 6000 feet per minute, staying within the airplane’s structural limits. So, a 30,000 feet per minute rate of descent is almost impossible in a large commercial airplane, unless something unusual has happened.

I’ve done dive bombing in a MiG 21 aircraft and I know even a fighter plane seems reluctant to stay in a steep dive.

4. This drawing by FlightRadar24 shows the airplane nosediving impossibly fast, then recovering and even climbing, before finally crashing. This info suggests a catastrophic loss of airplane control.

Is this information correct?

This service and many other similar ones use the data transmitted by the airplanes to ground based radars, so the information is normally quite accurate. Most pilots use it to see the actual position and Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) of the incoming airplane before we leave home to operate the next flight. But, as shown in the picture, there are minor gaps in the data stream, that raise a doubt.

Rumours.

Last evening, we saw a video of a plane in a vertical dive. To me, the camera placement seems too perfect. Horrifying as that video is, there sure is something suspicious about it. Now wonder, the media are calling it ‘an unverified video’ but are still using it to grab eyeballs.

Also, this picture I received on WhatsApp is gut wrenching and seems to be from that same video, but it is grabbed from an animation video on YouTube.

I just can’t understand why anyone would post fake pictures of such tragedies.

And of course, there are the usual experts blaming everyone, from Boeing to the Chinese government, and suggesting outrageous technical solutions in bad English.

Here are some screenshots:

And here is the best (or worst) of them all.

I’m simply stunned speechless by these ‘experts’ relying on ‘facts’ from social media!

Jumping to conclusions based on half-baked info will not help anyone, and certainly not the relatives of the poor passengers of that plane.

As I’ve always said, the only authentic source would be the outcome of the Court of Inquiry which will take some time. So, let knowledgeable people sift through the evidence and make their report.

But will China reveal the full details of the investigation? That remains to be seen!

© Avinash Chikte

Photos courtesy: Wikimedia, FlightRadar 24 and social media.

12 thoughts on “China Air Crash: Separating Facts from Fake News”

  1. 1. Nice analysis Chikte. Analysed to…wait and watch!!
    2. Rightly suspected…ROD 30000 is almost .5 mach descend.
    3. Doubt, if we’ll get to know anything from the origin nation.

  2. 1. Nice analysis Chikte. Analysed to…wait and watch!!
    2. Rightly suspected…ROD 30000 is almost .5 mach descend.
    3. Doubt, if we’ll get to know anything from the origin nation.

  3. Satish Shankarrao Patil.

    Dear Avinash, Really nicely inferred the China Air Crash, so also question remains why they should manipulate the incidence. I think it’s an operandi to misguide & obtain the out put / milage convenient for them. Lets hope for authentic results from inquiry. 🙏

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