Muddy conditions hamper search for China Eastern wreckage

BEIJING (AP): Construction excavators dug into a crash site Saturday in the search for wreckage, remains and the second black box from a China Eastern 737-800 that nosedived into a mountainside in southern China this week with 132 people on board.

Workers wearing knee-high rubber boots used shovels and other hand tools to sift through the earthen slopes in a 20-meter- (65-foot-) deep pit left by the plane. Debris and other items were collected in dozens of rectangular, mud-stained plastic containers.

Pumps were used to drain water as muddy conditions in the rainy Guizhou region hampered the search. One excavator stopped working after getting partially stuck, state broadcaster CCTV said.

No survivors have been found, and the cause of the crash remained a mystery. An air traffic controller tried to contact the pilots several times after seeing the plane’s altitude drop sharply but got no reply, officials have said.

Searchers found the cockpit voice recorder on Wednesday but have yet to find the flight data recorder.

Authorities said Saturday that forensic and criminal investigation experts had confirmed the identities of 114 passengers and six crew members, or 120 of the 132 people on the flight.

The domestic flight from the city of Kunming in southwestern China was flying at 29,000 feet (8,800 meters) when it suddenly plunged to the ground, shortly before it would have started its descent to the airport in Guangzhou, a provincial capital and export manufacturing hub near Hong Kong on China’s southeastern coast.

China Eastern, one of China’s four major airlines, and its subsidiaries have grounded all of their 737-800 aircraft, a total of 223 planes. The carrier said the grounding was a precaution, not a sign there was anything wrong.