Flight simulator clip misused as footage of China plane crash

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Footage described as a jetliner's last moments before it plummeted in southern China was viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter. But the images are not from a fatal China Eastern Airlines crash of March 21, 2022; they are, in fact, a computer-generated simulation of an Ethiopian Airlines accident three years ago. 

"A Boeing 737 just crashed in southern China. This was one of the moment recorded on the plane. maybe the only moment. Viewers discretion advised," a March 21, 2022 tweet says, attaching a video clip of what appears to be a plane falling from the sky, viewed more than 150,000 on the platform.

The claim, AFP found through a keyword search on Twitter, seems to have originated from another account based in Los Angeles, California. The tweet gathered more than 400,000 views before being deleted.

A screenshot of a tweet taken on March 21, 2022


The footage was also shared on Facebook, here

The clip circulated  in different countries  on social media shortly after the fatal crash of a China Eastern Boeing 737-800, carrying 132 people, in the country's Guangxi region.

Flight simulator 

Social media users soon started questioning the veracity of the images -- some noting that the footage appeared to be a computer-programmed flight simulation, not a real plane crash.

AFP Fact Check also found through a reverse image search that the logo displayed on the wing of the airplane in the video was of Ethiopian Airlines, and not China Eastern.

A screenshot taken on March 21, 2022 of a still image taken from a clip shared on Twitter on March 21, 2022
A screenshot of the logo of Ethiopian Airlines taken on March 21, 2022



AFP recovered the flight simulation footage published in 2019, through a search on YouTube. The images, as of the 9'34" minute mark in the video, are identical to the 10 second-long clip shared on Twitter. 

"Ethiopia Plane Crash, Ethiopia Airlines B737 MAX Crashes After Takeoff, Addis Ababa Airport [XP11]," the title of the video reads. "THIS IS NOT EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED, THIS IS ONLY A SIMULATED FLIGHT CRASH FOR ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES FLIGHT ET302," the video description says. 

XP11 is a flight simulator and the clip aims to reproduce what happened during the March 10, 2019 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane that killed all 157 people on board and triggered the global grounding of the Boeing 737-Max jetliner -- a different model than the 737-800 that crashed in China.

"It is terrible to hear that my video is being abused by someone else," the owner of the YouTube channel told AFP by email, while confirming the clip had nothing to do with the recent China Eastern plane crash.

In recent years, China has enjoyed a good air safety record attributable to newly built airports and new airlines with modern craft established to match strong growth. An investigation of the China Eastern crash is under way, with authorities on March 22 saying the airliner's flight recorders had not yet been recovered.

March 25, 2022 This article has been updated to add details on the original video.