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Cablegate: Preliminary Field Investigation of Shanghai Md-11 Crash

VZCZCXRO9143
RR RUEHCN RUEHVC
DE RUEHGH #0471/01 3410855
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 070855Z DEC 09
FM AMCONSUL SHANGHAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8402
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHEK/AMEMBASSY BISHKEK 0032
RHMCSUU/FAA NATIONAL HQ WASHINGTON DC
RHMCSUU/FAA WESTERN PACIFIC RGN HQ LOS ANGELES CA
RULSJGB/NTSB NATIONAL HQ WASHDC
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 9065

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SHANGHAI 000471

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/CM, EEB/TRA
STATE PASS FAA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR CASC PREL CH
SUBJECT: PRELIMINARY FIELD INVESTIGATION OF SHANGHAI MD-11 CRASH
CONCLUDES

REF: A. Ng-EEB/TRA Email of 11/28/09: Avient Air ACCID: Sitrep One
B. Ng-EEB/TRA Email of 12/01/09: Avient Air ACCID: Sitrep Two

SHANGHAI 00000471 001.2 OF 002


This message is sensitive but unclassified, not for distribution
outside USG channels.

1. (SBU) The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has
indicated its desire to complete within six months its
investigation into the November 28 crash of a
Zimbabwean-registered MD-11 cargo charter aircraft at Shanghai
Pudong International Airport, according to National
Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB) officials. The NTSB noted
that such a deadline would be ambitious and challenging for any
civil aviation authority to meet. The lone surviving American
crewmember was transferred to a medical facility in Hong Kong on
December 3 for further treatment. End Summary.

----------
Background
----------

2. (U) On the morning of November 28, a Zimbabwean-registered
MD-11 cargo freight plane crashed upon takeoff at Pudong
International Airport (PVG). The seven-member crew included four
U.S. citizens. Three of the Americans were fatally injured, and
the fourth received serious injuries but has since stabilized.
Carrying a load of electronic equipment destined for Bishkek,
Kyrgyzstan, the MD-11 aircraft was attempting to take off from
the longest of PVG's three runways. The aircraft did not lift
off and crashed beyond the runway, erupting in flames. The PVG
Airport Authority told Embassy Beijing FAA Attache that the
runway involved in the crash would likely remain closed for
"about a month," although NTSB officials personally observed a
plane landing on said runway the morning of December 7.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
NTSB: No MD-11 Airworthiness Issues of Immediate Concern
--------------------------------------------- -----------

3. (SBU) According to NTSB officials, preliminary analysis of
the crash indicated no immediate airworthiness concerns for the
MD-11 aircraft; therefore, industry rumors signaling a CAAC
"no-fly" order for MD-11 aircraft in China is imminent are
baseless. Current lines of inquiry are focusing on operator
issues (both for the aircraft operator Avient Aviation as well
as for the flight crew). The NTSB officials noted that the
aircraft had recently undergone significant refurbishment and
only returned to service November 20.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Surviving AmCit Receiving Treatment in Hong Kong
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (SBU) Having been transferred to Hong Kong December 2 for
medical treatment, the lone surviving American crewmember, Mr.
William Johnson remains in stable condition. (Note: Mr. Johnson
has not signed a Privacy Act Waiver; please do not release
information related to his condition outside USG channels. End
Note) Family members are in frequent contact with Hong Kong
American Citizen Services (ACS) officers. Doctors estimate he
will need to remain hospitalized for at least an additional six
weeks. Mr. Johnson's family is still considering a medical
evacuation to the United States. However, doctors have cautioned
that such a long trip might not be advisable given his current
condition.

5. (SBU) The CAAC still considers Mr. Johnson a part of its
formal inquiry into the accident. When Mr. Johnson's family
initially sought to have him moved to Hong Kong, the CAAC
refused to permit his departure. Upon the intervention of
Embassy Beijing FAA Attache, the CAAC consented to the transfer
of Mr. Johnson to a medical facility in Hong Kong but requested
notification in the event that Mr. Johnson departs Hong Kong.
The extent of Mr. Johnson's injuries currently precludes his
participation in an accident interview. (Note: He suffered
severe smoke inhalation and remains on a respirator. End Note)
The NTSB team offered to facilitate an interview with Mr.
Johnson on behalf of the CAAC should he return to the U.S. prior
to being interviewed.

6. (SBU) The CAAC ordered autopsies on the three deceased
American crewmembers December 5. Initially, the CAAC had
indicated an autopsy would not be necessary, but ultimately
changed its mind. (Note: NTSB officials noted that deceased
flight crew autopsies are standard practice for aircraft

SHANGHAI 00000471 002.2 OF 002


accident investigations in the U.S. End Note)

-------
Comment
-------

7. (SBU) FAA Attache and NTSB officials have characterized the
CAAC's handling of the MD-11 crash investigation as very
professional and highly cooperative. One team member commented
to EconOff that in 1999 he participated in a CAAC-led air crash
investigation, and that in the intervening decade the CAAC had
made substantial improvements. Post will continue to monitor the
situation. End Comment.

8. (U) This report was coordinated with the NTSB team.
CAMP

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