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U3A Writing: Doomed Flight

...The terrible crash of flight CZ4812 is the subject of endless conspiracy theories....

Derek McQueen's story tells of the mysterious crash of a new airliner which had been in service for just two months.

Flight CZ4812, the 09-20-morning flight to Beijing, was delayed by 20 minutes to allow extra time for two VIP passengers to board. Two security men accompanied the VIP's and the party of four, was curtained off at the front of the cabin.

Unusually there were many empty seats and it would be light work for the cabin staff. The weather was perfect for the flight with clear skies, sunny but cold. The 195 was a brand-new Embraer aircraft, the first to be sold to South China airlines and there would be just one fuelling stop in Yining. Six flight attendants were on board, far more than the passengers would need as it turned out. Two of the young girls were assigned to look after the needs of the Japanese VIPs and there was the usual activity preparing drinks and snacks for the flight. Of the two-man flight crew, one was the American senior captain, Jackson Warner from North Carolina. Jackson would be putting his Chinese counterpart through his final training flights in the newly built 195 'plane.

The South China, Embraer 195 had been in service for two months. The Brazilian built airliner was newly designed and the pride of the Embraer Aircraft Company. It was undoubtedly a superb piece of engineering. The four aircraft ordered by South China looked splendid in their red and orange livery and cobalt blue tail fins. After a month’s flight simulator training at the Embraer plant in Sao Jose, the pilots were qualified to fly the 195 on internal Chinese flights centred on Urumqi. Urumqi city is situated in the Tian Shan Mountains in the north-western region of Xinjiang and has a population of 2.5 million. It is known for being the furthest city from the sea and the largest inland city in the world.

Skies were cloudless as the CZ8412 plane was finally cleared for take off at 9-40am. Urumqui is one of the busiest airports in China, unsurprising for a city of this size, and supports a wide cross section of aircraft. The runways can accommodate a Boeing 777 and accept long haul flights from around the world. As well as 1300 domestic flights per week to sixty destinations in China, there are also 196 international flights to the USSR, Europe and the Americas.

The plane threaded its way past the dozens of aircraft clustered around the central terminals like gigantic insects around a hive.

Flight CZ8412 roared down the runway only a few minutes late.
Five minutes after take off, the E195 failed to clear the Tianshan mountain range and plunged into the side of Hong Shan Mountain. Witnesses said they heard a series of loud explosions and saw fire and dense black smoke rising above the crash site. There were no casualties on the ground according to the Xinhua agency who described the plane as 'burnt and destroyed'. There was no chance any of the passengers or crew could have survived. Urumqi airport was in a state of shock.

There had never been an accident on this scale since the airport opened in 1973. The plane was virtually new with 'designed in' cutting edge aero-technology. Of the two pilots on board, the Chinese flight officer was still building his experience with the very new Embraer 195 aeroplane. Jackson Warner had over 5,000 flying hours and had been specially chosen for the China assignment. Mr Se Sung, Warner's co-pilot, had a blemish free record on Boeing 727's. Pilot error would seem unlikely given their combined experience. Sabotage didn't seem a realistic possibility either. What would there be to gain?

Urumqi airport slowly returned to normal and flights were resumed by early afternoon. With the help of a team from the airport fire department, the crash site had been slowly cleared. As feared there were no survivors, most of the passengers being burnt beyond recognition. Fortunately both the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder were recovered reasonably intact. They would hopefully shed light on the mystery crash of Flight CZ4812.

A team of three arrived from the China Civil Aviation Authority in Beijing. Two very shocked Embraer engineers were on their way from Sao Jose in Brazil, certain that the accident could not have been a fault with the plane. The twin engines on the 195 were General Electric 'CF-34 Fans' and their representative was flying from Sydney to be part of the investigative team being assembled in Urumqi.

Attention was being focussed on the VIP party who had enjoyed special clearance for the flight. After many telephone calls it became clear that all four of the men were Japanese, the two principles representing the Japanese Government at high level.

Could the crash have anything to do with their being on board CZ4812?

The engineers from Brazil and Australia had combed the crash site, collecting what few recognisable pieces of the plane that were left. The recovered fragments were ferried to an empty hangar on the edge of the airport. Whilst this was going on, specialist engineers from Beijing had begun to interrogate the 'flight data' and 'cockpit voice recorders'. The 'flight data recorder' seemed to indicate normal behaviour from the plane right up to the actual nosedive into the mountain. All aileron and rudder controls were exactly to the Embraer 195 specifications.

The cockpit voice recorder was another issue. Listening to the now dead pilots conversing was an eerie experience, which was always dreaded. The tapes were played and then replayed over and over in the hope that some tiny snippet of incisive information would be found. There was one word that was repeated several times by Mr Se Sung. The word was Senkaku.

A team of six engineers was sieving and re sieving what little they had that might be supporting evidence for the dreadful crash.

'Why were the two pilots talking about Senkaku?' 'It's probably a Japanese word.' Was it just a coincidence that there had been four Japanese VIP passengers, close to the cockpit?

It soon became clear that Senkaku is an island, one of several forming an archipelago in the East China Sea. All were uninhabited except for the occasional fishing boat but the chain known as Diaoyu in China had become the key element in the China/Japan territorial waters dispute. In addition the area around the islands is rich in minerals and oil reserves as well as plentiful fishing grounds.

Senkaku has seen much action from trawlers and Japanese patrol boats with many collisions and quite a few sinking’s in the last ten years. These have all been symptomatic of the deteriorating relationship between the two countries. A power struggle in the South China Sea. With no other tangible evidence, the team declared an 'open' verdict on the cause of the CZ4812 crash but added a codicil.

The presence on the plane of the four Japanese passengers together with the cockpit recording of both pilots making repeated reference to Senkaku must offer clues to what took place.

The terrible crash of flight CZ4812 is the subject of endless conspiracy theories. So far none have shed light on the cause.

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