The Boeing 737-800 was cruising at high altitude when it suddenly pitched into a near-vertical descent, plummeting into a mountain at extreme speed. Data from a black box recovered in the crash suggests inputs to the controls pushed the plane into the fatal dive, these people said.
“The plane did what it was told to do by someone in the cockpit,” said a person who is familiar with American officials’ preliminary assessment, which includes an analysis of information extracted from the plane’s damaged flight-data recorder.
Also underpinning the American officials’ assessment, this person said: Chinese authorities, who are leading the investigation, so far haven’t flagged any mechanical or flight-control problems with the plane involved in the March 21 crash in southern China. That model is a workhorse of the global aviation industry and is part of a family of Boeing aircraft that have one of the best safety records in commercial flying.
China Eastern has said that the pilot and co-pilot had both been in good health, with no known financial or family issues. Authorities in China said soon after the crash that no emergency code had been sent from the plane, suggesting no intruder could have reached the cockpit.