Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE David Learmount/LONDON

The crew of the Korean Air (KAL) Boeing MD-11 freighter that crashed in China on 15 April appears to have lost control of the aircraft during climb-out from Shanghai. Evidence suggests a stall after the aircraft reached 4,600ft (1,400m), says a preliminary report from the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC).

The aircraft's digital cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was "severely damaged", but the memory module records that "shortly after take-off, the crew experienced a problem in manoeuvring the aircraft". The CAAC says the nature of the problem is not clear from the pilots' conversation, however.

Eyewitness statements and ground marks indicate that the aircraft hit the ground with wings nearly level in a 35-45¹ angle of descent, says the CAAC. Such a steep angle would indicate either that the pilots had lost control of the aircraft or were attempting to recover it.

"The aircraft was severely fragmented by the impact," says a US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) interpretation of the CAAC report. All three crew and five people on the ground were killed and 37 injured. The NTSB is examining the remains of the flight data recorder and some tape from the quick access recorder.

Readings from the number 2 and number 3 engines show no powerplant faults during the flight. The CAAC says there is no evidence of an in-flight fire or "criminal action", and no adverse weather. No mention has been made, however, of the possibility of a cargo shift or loading that might have put the aircraft out of its centre of gravity limits.

The aircraft took off from runway 18 in "low clouds and light rain" on a scheduled flight to Seoul and was to turn left at 3,000ft. It was then cleared to 5,000ft. The CAAC says crew conversations with air traffic control were routine, instructions were complied with and the radar showed the aircraft beginning to descend from 4,600ft at about the same time as the pilots received clearance to climb to 18,700ft.

KAL has suffered 12 serious accidents since 1990, the latest after the leak of an internal report slamming the carrier's Boeing 747 operational safety standards.

Source: Flight International