A black box recorder from the China Eastern airplane that crashed earlier this week was found severely damaged at the crash site in southern China, a Chinese aviation official said Wednesday.

The recovered box was one of two on board the plane, said Mao Yanfeng, the director of the accident investigation division of the Civil Aviation Authority of China, at a press conference.

Officials could not immediately determine if it was the flight data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder due to the damage to its casing, Mao said.

"The exterior appearance of the black box is severely damaged," Mao said at the news conference. "Once both recorders are found and sent to the lab for analysis, we will be able to know more about the cause of the accident."

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Authorities are hoping the recorders can provide answers about why the plane took an unexpected dive into the mountainous countryside of the southern province of Guangxi on Monday just an hour after departure with 132 people on board. The plane crash is China's worst air disaster in a decade.

None of the 123 passengers and nine crew members on board have been found.

Despite their name, the "black box" devices are actually painted bright orange to aid in recovery after a crash. The flight data recorder box captures information on the plane including airspeed, altitude, system performance and direction. The cockpit recorder captures pilot conversation and possible noise from the plane.

At the news conference, officials said the weather was normal during the flight, the plane did not have any problems in its maintenance record, and the crew were in communication with air traffic controllers before the plane's sudden descent. Officials also said members of the crew were healthy and qualified pilots.

Early Wednesday, heavy rain suspended search efforts, according to state-owned China Daily. More than 600 firefighters and other officials were sent to the crash site to aid in the operation and were searching through wet and muddy conditions for the second recorder.

Meanwhile, family members of those onboard the flight attempting to get close to the crash site Wednesday were escorted away by police and officials, who opened umbrellas to block the view of the area.

The plane, a Boeing 737-800, took off from Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan toward Guangzhou, a large city in the Guangdong Province northwest of Hong Kong, at 1:11 p.m. local time Monday. The flight was scheduled to arrive at 3:05 p.m., but air traffic controllers lost track of the plane around 2:15 p.m., according to China Daily.

The China Eastern Airlines flight traveled at about 30,000 feet before it suddenly dropped around 2:20 p.m., according to data from the flight-tracking website Flightradar24.com. The airplane was traveling at its cruising altitude speed of 523 mph and it fell to 7,400 feet before it briefly regained about 1,200 feet in altitude, and then dove again. The plane stopped transmitting data 96 seconds after starting to dive, data shows.

China Eastern Airlines has grounded all of its Boeing 737-800 planes following the crash. Boeing has come under fire in recent years for crashes of its 737 Max airplane, including an Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed and killed all 189 people aboard in 2019.

Officials have not yet identified the cause of the crash.

Contributing: Ryan Miller, USA TODAY; Associated Press

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: China plane crash: Black box recorder found from Boeing 737

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