The crash of a China Eastern Airlines jet might have been deliberate, according to a US report.
The Boeing 737-800 crashed into the mountains of Guangxi on 21 March during a flight from Kunming to Guangzhou.
All those on board – 123 passengers and nine crew members – were killed.
Late on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that flight data from one of the plane’s black boxes indicated that someone in the cockpit intentionally crashed the jet.
The report cited people familiar with a preliminary assessment done by US officials, adding that there was no evidence so far of technical problems with the aircraft.
It is not yet clear whether the investigation’s hypothesis is one pilot acting alone, a struggle, or a passenger breaking into the cockpit.
But the airline told the Wall Street Journal that a cockpit intrusion was not plausible, citing a news conference in March in which Chinese authorities said there was no emergency code sent from the plane before the crash.
The pilots also did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers and nearby planes during their rapid descent.
Boeing and the US National Transportation Safety Board declined to comment on the report, but China’s Civil Aviation Administration said in April that internet rumours of a deliberate crash had “gravely misled the public” and “interfered with the accident investigation work”.
The Wall Street Journal cited the airline as saying that no evidence had emerged that could determine whether or not there were any problems with the aircraft.
The 737-800 is a predecessor to Boeing’s 737 MAX and has been in service since 1997 with a strong safety record.
It does not have the systems linked to 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019, which killed hundreds of people and led to the model being grounded around the world.
After the China Eastern crash, the airline grounded all of its 737-800s but flights resumed in April – a move seen as ruling out safety concerns.
A final report into the crash could take more than two years to complete, Chinese officials have said.